Kids Discover the Trail! (KDT!) provides elementary students in Tompkins County with curriculum-based field trips to the Discovery Trail.
KDT! was formed in 2004 through a collaboration between the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI), the Discovery Trail, and the Ithaca City School District. The idea was to enhance students’ learning through experience-based programs and help students find connections between art, history, literature, science, and the natural world.
Through Kids Discover the Trail!, each elementary grade is linked with one of the eight Discovery Trail organizations: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell, Tompkins County Public Library, Museum of the Earth at PRI, Sciencenter, Cornell Botanic Gardens, The History Center in Tompkins County, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Cayuga Nature Center. Educators at the Discovery Trail sites work with teachers to develop pre- and post-trip classroom activities to help connect the students’ learning to the resources and experiences at the sites.
In preparation for their recent trip to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, for example, fifth grade students studied the four habitats they would be observing, as well as the different plants and animals they might see, such as Jack-in-the-pulpits and great blue herons. The students then put this knowledge to use on their trip when they conducted Biodiversity Surveys. Working in teams, the students acted as citizen scientists, collecting data on the species they observed. This data will be used by the Lab of Ornithology to help monitor and preserve its biodiversity.
At each of the sites, students are provided with a content-specific book to take home. To encourage community members to take advantage of the resources offered by the Discovery Trail, each site also provides students with a pass to return with their family, free of charge.
In addition to the educational programs, Kids Discover the Trail! also offers a significant social component. In order to promote understanding and respect among elementary students from different neighborhoods, pairs of classrooms from different elementary schools are linked and visit their Discovery Trail sites together. Some classrooms also engage in additional “Buddy Up” trips to help the students get to know each other even better.
“My favorite part was hanging out with people who you don’t know and would not necessarily hang out with,” said Belle Sherman fourth grader Hannah Shapiro. “They are also people you would see in middle school.”
Since its founding in 2004, KDT! has continually expanded to reach more students in the area. This year, a record 4,400 children – representing 80 percent of all public elementary students in Tompkins County – participated in the program. In the ICSD, 100 percent of students in Pre-K through fifth grade participated. According to Star Bessler, executive director of the Discovery Trail, the goal is to provide “equal access to the resources of the Discovery Trail for all kids in the county.”