Profile of Larry Volpe, 2010 Natural Teachers Award Recipient
– November 23, 2010
By Sara St. Antoine
Sara St. Antoine is a C&NN Senior Writer and Switzer Foundation Fellow
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 and jars of specimens. The students raise silkworms from eggs. They have an aquatic tank where they study diving beetles and dragonflies. They rear garden pests to learn about their life cycles. They put a plastic bag over a leaf on a sunny day and watch the condensation form as they learn about transpiration. They eat the fruits of their garden labors. As Larry points out, “What better way is there to learn about how photosynthesis produces sugar than to eat a fresh organic heirloom tomato or grapes right from the vine?”
It’s in the garden that Larry sees some of the biggest transformations in his students. “These kids can apply this hard working ethic, which many get from seeing their folks working in our garden, to many life skills, including succeeding in school.” The students also train to become garden docents and take pride in showing visitors the garden and the native landscaping on the school grounds.
Out on trips, too, the students find new motivation to cooperate and be responsible. Larry makes it clear that if they don’t listen and follow directions, they won’t be invited to come again. He says the kids get it. In thirteen years of trips, only two students have ever been dropped because they didn’t listen. As a side project, Larry leads trips for Inner City Outings where many of the kids are troubled, some of them wards of the court. In his experience, these young people are always well behaved and eager to learn when they are out hiking and exploring the natural world.
Larry does such a remarkable job staying connected to his former students that many of them come back as high schoolers to take part in the Inner City Outings adventures. In fact, many of these older students are now mentors to his younger group, nurturing the nature-focused community that Larry has created.
“Connecting children with nature is the best way for them to learn,” Larry says. “The kids never stop asking to go out in our garden,” Larry says. “These experiences are the best part of our day.”
[>] Read more
Former head of the National Park Service, Fran Mainella, to Chair The Children & Nature Network’s Board of Directors
This site contains brief excerpts from copyrighted material with links to the original source. Click here for more information on C&NN's Fair Use Policy.
The idea of shared community space for agricultural purposes is thousands of years old. Today,… [+]
Across the United States, families are anxiously awaiting spring. Mother Heather Manning of Bethlehem, Pa.… [+]
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is partnering with The Children & Nature… [+]
California assemblyman Mark Stone has introduced legislation that would help get more youth outdoors to… [+]
Cities across the United States are waking up to the value of urban forests. From… [+]
The editorial board of the Idaho Statesman newspaper uses the occasion of "Be Outside, Idaho"… [+]
Regional planners in Minnesota's Twin Cities region are grappling with data showing that public parks… [+]
While the health benefits of trees and green spaces are generally understood, they are often… [+]
In the 2010 Richard Louvd declared that, before long, Australia would reap the rewards of… [+]
C&NN Synthesis of Research and Studies
[+] Research & Studies Vol. 1
[+] Research & Studies Vol. 2
[+] Research & Studies Vol. 3
[+] Research & Studies Vol. 4
[+] Research & Studies Vol. 5
Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit
Download the Tool Kit [>]
The Tool Kit includes a Quick Start Guide with simple instructions on how to start a local Nature Club for Families.
[+] view full archive
C&NN PublicationsAs part of our ongoing efforts to build the movement, the Children & Nature Network has published these resources for leaders, organizers, and participants at the local, national, and international levels:
2010 C&NN Report
[>] Download PDF [2MB]
Children and Nature 2009: A Report on the Movement to Reconnect Children to the Natural World
[>] Download PDF [1.1MB]
C&NN Community Action Guide: Building the Children & Nature Movement from the Ground Up
[>] Download PDF [1.4MB]