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C&NN Awards First Natural Teachers Award to Larry Volpe of Santa Clara, CA

Children & Nature Network – November 08, 2010

C&NN Awards First Natural Teachers Award to Larry Volpe of Santa Clara, CA

SANTA FE, NM – November, 2010 – The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) recently debuted its Natural Teachers Award program in the San Francisco Bay Area. Top honors went to Larry Volpe, a 5th grade teacher at Daniel Lairon Elementary School in Santa Clara County. Dennis Dowling (Wilcox High School, Santa Clara County), Halo Shapiro Smart (REAL Academy, Redwood High School, San Mateo County), and Rona Zollinger (Environmental Studies Academy, Briones School, Contra Costa County) were named as finalists from a field of 23 nominees.

Click here to read profiles of all of the nominees.

The Natural Teachers Award recipient will receive an educational voyage to the Galapagos Islands with Lindblad Expeditions & National Geographic. Finalists will receive five hundred dollars each.

C&NN partnered with Lindblad Expeditions, the Stewardship Council, the Foundation for Youth Investment, the Morgan Family Foundation, and the Bay Area Children in Nature Collaborative on this pilot award. “These groups share our mission of connecting children with nature. They also know that teachers have a special role to play. Together we are working to empower and expand the community of teachers dedicated to making the outdoors an integral part of teaching and learning,” noted C&NN President & CEO, Cheryl Charles.

“Traveling around the country, I often meet educators who experience firsthand the challenges our children face: obesity, distraction, hyperactivity, and disinterest in learning. Such teachers also understand the importance of using the natural world as a classroom—they’ve seen the benefits.” Richard Louv, C&NN Chairman and Author, Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

The C&NN Natural Teachers Award was established to honor K-12 teachers in public schools who:
• Demonstrate an effective and creative approach to taking students outdoors in nature for learning and inspiration
• Provide opportunities for students to develop a sense of curiosity and understanding through direct experience in nature
• Serve as role models in building a relationship with the natural world
• Inspire other teachers to take their students outdoors in nature
• Inspire support from administrators for nature-based learning

Natural Teachers Award recipient Larry Volpe received multiple nominations from teachers, students, parents, and colleagues who know him through his work at Dan Lairon High School and San Jose Inner City Outings, a volunteer organization that provides outdoor adventures for underserved youth.

A fellow teacher shared about Larry Volpe: “Larry consistently gives up his weekends to provide his students opportunities for hiking, camping, and seaside experiences. In addition, he gives them planting, growing and harvesting experiences with a large and well-tended garden behind his classroom ... I’ve never known any other teacher to provide so many outdoor hands-on experiences for their classes.”

One of Larry Volpe’s students wrote: “He uses the outdoors as a means for educating the students … while providing a memorable fifth grade experience. His energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge to teach students about the outdoors was so inspiring that I began to take interest in growing fruits and vegetables.”

A fellow volunteer with Inner City Outings wrote: “Larry’s students come from families whose norms do not include visiting wilderness and appreciating nature. Larry introduces them to nature’s complexity and instills in them a sense of stewardship.”

Dennis Dowling’s colleagues at Wilcox High School shared: “Dennis has taken over 2,000 Santa Clara students backpacking into Point Reyes and Yosemite over the past 40 years. He has motivated over 800 Wilcox teens to volunteer at Ulistac Natural Area in the city of Santa Clara to plant California Native plants … The lessons and leadership he offers students is extensive. These range from basic naturalist skills, to ecological sensitivity, to responding to crisis situations … Since I have known him, Dennis has shown a constant and ever-growing commitment to broadening the minds of young adults in all aspects of ecological science and outdoor stewardship.”

Halo Shapiro Smart teaches and directs REAL, the Redwood Academy of Environmental Leadership, a small service learning academy within Redwood High School that re-engages at-risk youth in their school and community by teaching interdisciplinary content through environmental service learning projects. Halo’s colleagues noted: “Halo skillfully integrates the natural world and environmental sciences throughout her curriculum. To implement her bold vision for REAL, Halo took the initiative to reach out to the community to request support, resources and partnership. Her efforts were successful, largely because community partners recognized the depth of her commitment to her students and her keen interest in providing students with hands-on learning opportunities in the natural environment.”

Rona Zollinger founded the Environmental Studies Academy, an environmentally focused integrated high school program for at-risk youth, in 2003. The program uses creek restoration as a means to explore health and sustainability, on an environmental, as well as a personal, level. A student of Rona Zollinger wrote: “My teacher, Dr. Rona Zollinger began the ESA as a once-a-week project for students who wanted to help restore Alhambra Creek. It is now a daily school for students who want to connect to the earth and make a difference in their local community … Before entering the ESA, I was unsure of what the future was going to look like, because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to succeed in a traditional high school. Now I am in my senior year of the ESA and I see how the program helped me to feel connected to my local watershed and to my community. As a result, I have developed into a strong, competent leader with a bright career in teaching. I am eternally grateful to Rona for everything she has done for me.”
The C&NN Natural Teachers Award, which honors teachers in six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, was created as a pilot project for later national expansion. The award recipients will be recognized at local school board meetings, to ensure that their work will be considered within a broader educational and community context.

The mission of the Children & Nature Network is to build a worldwide movement to reconnect children and nature—for their health and well-being. C&NN builds awareness, provides access to state-of-the art resources, supports the grassroots with tools and strategies, develops publications and educational materials, synthesizes the best available research, and encourages collaboration to heal the broken bond between children and nature. C&NN is a 501c3 non-profit organization.

2010 Natural Teachers Award Partners:

The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) was created to encourage and support the people and organizations working nationally and internationally to reconnect children with nature. C&NN recognizes the importance of publicly honoring and celebrating the work of teachers, educators, and administrators who embody the practices and principles of the movement.

The Children in Nature Collaborative is made up of regional and national partners — teachers, parents, farmers, health professionals, environmentalists, businesses, faith-based groups, and community leaders—working together to restore children's relationship with nature in the Bay Area.

The Stewardship Council protects and enhances watershed lands and uses, and invests in efforts to improve the lives of young Californians through connections with the outdoors.

The Foundation for Youth Investment (FYI) connects California's underserved youth to the great outdoors by supporting effective organizations and advocating for positive change in the outdoor field.

The Morgan Family Foundation focuses its giving on youth, education, the environment, and stewardship, supporting programs that expose youth -- future stewards of our environment -- to the wonders of our natural world, reconnecting them to nature through firsthand experiences.

Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic have joined in a mission-driven alliance to inspire people to explore and care about the planet. The partnership’s educationally oriented voyages allow guests to interact with leading scientists, naturalists and researchers while discovering stunning natural environments, above and below the sea, through state-of-the-art exploration tools.

For more information, go to
or contact Jackie Green,, 323-512-3050

Click here to download the press release.

[+] Read about Larry Volpe and his work with San Jose Inner City Outings

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