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Excursions in a Green World

By Peter Delman, Visual Arts Teacher and Pingry's Sustainability Coordinator

For much of the 2016-17 school year, Pingry alumnus and licensed architect Scott Loikits '90 worked with Mr. Delman to develop a green campus design plan. That is, they brainstormed landscape design ideas for the back of the Upper School campus that would harness the school's natural woodland resources while helping to teach students about sustainability. In April, Mr. Loikits visited Pingry to lead separate workshop with both students and faculty/staff to collect ideas for the green redesign. Additionally, as part of this "green" initiative, last winter Mr. Delman envisioned offering a summer course to interested students as a way to further explore some of these questions of campus sustainability.

Planning for this summer course, which took place from July 10-14, began in the winter of 2017. The original plan was to offer a three-week outdoor education course led by a team hired from the Student Conservation Association. As the project evolved, we found that we could do more for less with in-house talent. The leadership team was committed by mid-June—new Upper School science teacher Olivia Tandon, recent Princeton graduate and environmental studies minor Emily Kamen '12, current student Isabel DeVito '19, and me. What we didn't have were enough students. With a late surge in signups, however, we exceeded early expectations with 10 middle- and upper-school students for a one-week session in early July.

The original idea for the course was for students to experience the natural world and to participate actively in the green campus design plan for the back campus by designing and building elements of that plan. Mission accomplished! On the first morning of the course, students studied the green campus site design created by architect and Pingry graduate Scott Loikits '90. Mr. Loikits was a lead architect on the new Whitney Museum and has designed signature buildings around the world. Armed with the information from his site plan—which includes an energy independent outdoor classroom and a tree canopy walk—students toured the campus, which was to be their creative inspiration for the week.

The first stop was a tour of the green energy systems of Beinecke House [the Headmaster's residence], led by Director of Facilities Mike Waelz. He had already gone above and beyond for this project, spending the prior weekend building a chicken coop, and then driving to Brooklyn in the wee hours of July 10 to pick up seven chickens and a rooster.

The brand new chicken coop was the next stop. What we found were happy chickens, excited students, and one green egg. Ms. Tandon, surrogate "chicken mom," introduced her charges to us. Harold the rooster, commenting on his former Brooklyn home, reportedly crowed, "Fuggedaboutit!" Soon the students were building perches for the chickens and learning how to care for them.

Later in the day Isabel introduced the team to Pingry's Kitchen Garden, where we watered and weeded plants and dealt with a swarm of uninvited beetle guests. Isabel is a naturalist extraordinaire with a well-earned reputation as "snake girl." She added to her legend by pulling a small but feisty garter snake out of the grass and teaching the mesmerized students about its anatomy and habits.

The highlight of Tuesday morning was a tour of the school's beehives. Pingry Music teacher and beekeeper Sean McAnally helped students and staff don bee suits and gave us an exciting inside tour of the bee hives. At lunch, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor with honey direct from the comb. Virtually all of our time during the course was spent outside, including lunch in the garden. Team leader Mr. Delman kept everyone cool and refreshed with home-squeezed lemonade accompanied by gorp.

In the afternoon, Emily Kamen '12 led the team on another community building project, this time clearing new trails to bypass flooded sections of the loop trail leading to our campsite. At the end of the day, Emily and Isabel led the group in reflecting on and discussing ideas for creating Pingry's green campus. The emphasis was on designing a Pingry farm.

Wednesday, we visited English Farm in Liberty Corner, where students enjoyed the goats, rabbits, chickens, and pigs. Farmer Carol English answered every question about how to create a farming program at Pingry. After much subsequent discussion, students decided that goats and fruit trees should be top priorities in building our program.

Thursday morning, we hiked in the Great Swamp and visited the nearby Raptor Trust. Several students recorded the ravens, which were apparently mimicking woodpecker hammering and owl calls.

Friday morning we made ceramic trail signs, then continued trail building in the afternoon rain. One goal is to make a trail suitable for training runs by the cross country team. We had a special lunch at which the students enjoyed making guacamole. Emily contributed zucchini pancakes; the students had harvested the zucchini from the school garden the day before. I baked peanut strips for dessert. We realized that there is nowhere in the school to heat up the zucchini pancakes, which were still delicious cold. So, the closing lunch inspired yet another goal—to design a student kitchen!

First-person reviews:

"My favorite part of the course was probably brainstorming ways to add to and improve the plans for the new Green Campus Initiative; it was great to have the opportunity to give input about how the plans could be expanded upon and improved. I also liked working to improve Pingry's trails, as they are an important part of the campus that not many students utilize. . . In terms of the valuable work we did to contribute to Pingry's sustainability, the course definitely exceeded my expectations!"—Natalie DeVito '22

Photos, top to bottom: With new Upper School science teacher Olivia Tandon holding one of Pingry's new chickens, Natalie DeVito '22 washes its feet to prevent mites; students create ceramic trail signs; campers visit with pigs at English Farm.

Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer,