Visit Dan Lairon Elementary at lunchtime on most school days, and you’ll find Larry Volpe out tending the vegetable garden with a pack of students. “I started gardening shortly after I started teaching,” he explains. “Nothing gives me more joy than to spend time with the kids and their families.”
The fifth grade teacher works extra hours to connect to his students—and connect them to nature. He leaves the house by seven to get to school for a full day of teaching. He works in the garden at lunch and after school. He regularly spends dinners with his students’ families. Weekends you’ll find him back in the garden or out hiking, rafting, or camping with his students in nearby canyons. “Fortunately, my wife is also a teacher,” Larry says. “She shares my passion for teaching and she understands my commitment.”
Larry draws inspiration for his work from his own childhood. He grew up in the mountains of New York, in a family without a lot of money. Still, Larry felt lucky to be able to fish and play outdoors nearly every moment in countryside free of “keep out” and “do not fish” signs. In college, he added backpacking and rafting to his pastimes. When he started teaching, it seemed…well, natural…to incorporate these activities into his teaching.
In his classes, Larry uses every chance possible to teach from nature. His classroom is a mini natural history museum, its shelves stuffed with pinecones, antlers, snake rattles, and jars…