Connecting Kids With Nature

Barley Dunne, director of the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery, leads a clamming expedition for Project MOST’s summer camp last Thursday. The campers were also treated to a photo discovery tour of the harbor, led by Ellen Watson, a professional photographer from Springs. Morgan McGivern

    Project MOST is best known by the community and grateful parents for leading after-school programs during the school year. But this summer, thanks to a grant from the Levitt Foundation, Project MOST teamed up with the Seedlings Project at the Springs School’s greenhouse and garden and offered a four-week camp for children, regardless of socioeconomic background, with a strong focus on nature.
    Summer camps on the South Fork can range from a few hundred dollars a week to well into the thousands. But the Project MOST/Springs Seedlings educational summer program, which ends tomorrow, offered its lineup free to families with annual salaries of under $40,000, and $60 a week for those whose paychecks were more than that. The 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. day has seen the 40-plus children, mostly from the John M. Marshall elementary school and the Springs School,  kayaking in Accobanac Harbor, visiting the shellfish hatchery on Napeague, and helping out the folks at the East End Cooperative Organic Farm on Long Lane.
    The Levitt Foundation’s goal is to combine education and nature, which it does by bestowing grants on programs that help to make children better “stewards of nature.” Since 1949, the New York City organization has been doling out grant money to groups that help young people in the five boroughs and on Long Island learn to value the environment in which they live.
    The foundation granted $51,000 to Project MOST’s pilot summer program, to help kids learn about the environment “in a hands-on way, and make sure low-income children could access the program and have a productive summer,” according to Tim Bryden, the program’s executive director.
    The Project MOST summer program has been focused around the Springs Seedlings greenhouse, featuring partnerships with the Group for the East End and the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery.
    On the Accabonac kayak exploration, children learned about undeveloped coastal wetlands, from the shore and the water. Thirty-two students, along with Martha Stotsky and Rebecca Morgan Taylor, the teachers, and Kayak Warriors, a boat-rental company, paddled out to observe plants and animals that are alive and well thanks to the stewardship of the waterway.
    Barley Dunne, the executive director of the East Hampton shellfish hatchery, briefed the kids on current marine biology research. The kids went clamming, and were able to see firsthand how sulphur dioxide was depleting oxygen from the waters, killing the shellfish.
    Children also did photo-essays with help from Ellen Watson, a professional local photographer, and wrote journals about what they saw, heard, and felt. They studied nutrition in a hands-on way, making community lunches like chilled cantaloupe soup, bean and green salads from the greenhouse, and fresh strawberry shortcake.
    “Gardening and making a healthy lunch are a big part of the program,” said Mr. Bryden.
    The program ended last night with a family dinner, prepared by the campers, at which the children presented what they had learned this summer to their parents, community members, and teachers. It also included a photo display and a tour of the Springs Seedlings garden.
    The program was a success, Mr. Bryden said, and he hopes it will continue, and expand.
    “There is no question that the students will say as a result of the summer experience that they think more about the environment, better understand farming and fresh food, and enjoyed the new experiences such as kayaking in Acabonac Harbor and photographing nature,” Mr. Bryden said, adding, “Paula Guerra, a student, said to me that she feels she has  helped to make the world more beautiful this summer.”