- Experiential Learning
By Ben Cavanagh ‘23, Alexis Gonzalez ‘22, and Nushana Huq ‘23
Named in honor of ecologist and alumnus Aldo Leopold (Lawrenceville Class of 1905), Lawrenceville’s Leopold Scholars Program recognizes eight scholars who show commitment to environmental ethics, sustainability efforts, and service through learning, living, and leading. This summer, the program was taught by Dr. [Steve] Laubach (science teacher and sustainability director) and Mrs. [Nina] Laubach (Explorations advisor and wellness teacher). Students began a long-term study of water quality in the Shipetaukin Creek that flows through the Lawrenceville campus and connects with the Delaware River Watershed. As part of a partnership with the Watershed Institute and the Stroud Water Research Center, students documented conditions of the creek and monitored water quality in advance of stream restoration efforts planned for the Tsai Field House project.
Covid conditions allowed for a safe resumption to the residential program, so Scholars took advantage of this to broaden their knowledge of Leopold’s land ethic by reading and discussing his landmark 1949 book A Sand County Almanac and using Leopold’s writings to explore their own personal land ethic through reflective creative writing and mindfulness. Reflective writing culminated in a publication, Watershed, to be shared with the School community in the fall of 2021. Using the campus and surrounding area as an outdoor classroom, students engaged in activities such as bike rides to the Watershed Institute for water testing of the Stony Brook Creek, tours of the campus water and electric facilities, camping, lending a hand at the Big Red Farm, and hiking.
Early on in the program, the Leopold Scholars also participated in a “stream stomp.” Using waders from the science department, they began a trek through the Lower Shipetaukin Creek. Starting next to Lawrenceville’s Main Street, the Scholars made their way toward the cornfields on the opposite side of campus, all along observing the changes in the creek and surrounding landscape. Admittedly, the stream was hard to get used to. While at the start the relatively shallow creek was manageable, by the end the stream stomp involved trekking through thick mud, murky water, and a maze of tree branches criss-crossing overhead. At the same time, however, the ability to see campus from this unique angle proved fascinating. The group discussed the way runoff from the School’s sports fields and old drainage pipe infrastructure affected the river and its biodiversity. Scholars appreciated the jungle-like atmosphere of the wildness so close to campus and pressed on despite leaking boots and the summer heat.
Overall, the stream stomp proved to be a valuable initial experience. As the program would later on move to a study of water chemistry and green infrastructure, Scholars were able to use their familiarity with the creek to understand the immediate, real-world applications of our learning on Lawrenceville’s campus.
In only two weeks of being a Leopold Scholar, we spent a full 21 hours sitting outside with no technology or friends to keep us occupied. Had we been asked to spend even 30 minutes outside with no phones or friends prior to this program, I’m not sure if any of us would have said “yes.” We’re all busy; school work, friends, family, and social media fill up our days. It took a couple days to get used to, but when we actually spent that 90 minutes outside, it felt like no time was wasted. We started to look forward to going to our reflection spots and noticing new things within the natural landscape of our school. More than that, we learned to truly appreciate this aspect of our life more. Rather than viewing nature as an aesthetic or a commodity that we get resources from, nature became more like a community that people are merely a part of. As such, we learned that people need to expand ethics beyond individual lives to include the well-being of our world as a community, including the non-human parts of our world such as soils and waters. In the end, maybe that is the key to coexisting with nature on a healthy planet!
For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org.