Riverbend Impacts: Nature-Based STEM Series
Riverbend made a positive impact in Upper Darby and Norristown Area School Districts last school year, reaching all 4th graders in both districts in fall 2022 and Norristown’s entire 3rd grade in spring 2023. Our three-part Nature-Based STEM Series encourages collaboration and critical thinking about local environmental issues. The program features an initial classroom visit, which introduces the environmental concepts to be explored, a field trip to a partner nature space in the students’ own community, and a culminating outdoor exploration of the students’ school yards for an application of their newly acquired scientific inquiry skills.
Multiple visits from the same educator is a hallmark of trauma-informed and culturally responsive education, and has allowed Riverbend to build and deepen our relationships with teachers, students, and schools alike.
These programs exemplify Riverbend’s place-based approach to our Nature-Based STEM Series. Through collaborations with both the Norristown Farm Park for our Norristown school partners, and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge for our Upper Darby school partners, our education team facilitates outdoor experiences that students and teachers could access again for free after the program ended. Research has demonstrated the benefits of place-based environmental education; it not only promotes academic achievement but fosters environmental and economic resilience within communities (National Park Service).
Riverbend’s work of forming connections between youth and their local environments cultivates a culture of care for neighbors of all species alike. In these parks, students lifted up rocks to find salamanders, traversed streams, and fed native fish.
Teachers praised the hands-on, immersive nature of the program. One of the Upper Darby 4th grade teachers remarked: “I received great feedback with lots of academic details about [the trips] from the students. The visit [from a Riverbend educator] was an eye opener for many of the students. Seeing their school yard as an ecosystem made them really think!” An Upper Darby 4th grade class is pictured above at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge’s boardwalk where the unique wetland ecosystem is explored.
As we look ahead to the 2023-2024 school year beginning in just a few short weeks, Riverbend will reach an estimated 2,000 students in Upper Darby and Norristown to enhance their understanding of the natural world. A majority of our partner schools in these districts are federally designated Title I, meaning 40% or more of student bodies are of low-income family backgrounds. Thanks to Riverbend’s generous donors, the Nature-Based STEM Series was provided free of charge for all Upper Darby 4th graders and all Norristown 3rd and 4th graders last year.