Caroline & Ithaca Children's Garden Team Up For Summer Camp

How are we connected?

Recently, the staff at Caroline Elementary read “Belling the Cat,” an Aesop fable that teaches the importance of evaluating a plan. In Caroline’s case, the fable encouraged teachers to reflect upon inclusive teaching practices and discuss the positive impact for all students. Out of this conversation emerged a vision for a new Caroline Wilderness Performance Academy. Thanks to generous support from the Park Foundation, plans for the Academy are real and well under way.

Each morning from August 1-19, Caroline teachers will lead student-centered activities to explore the question: How are we connected? Through field study, creative writing and fish bowl discussions, students will look at answering this complex question and record their process through the creation of a short documentary. Each afternoon, Ithaca Children’s Garden play workers will join campers at Caroline to facilitate rich, child-led, nature-based play that relates to the theme of the day. 

Open to rising second-, third- and fourth-graders, the summer camp blends literacy, performance, art and nature-play throughout three intensive weeks. The summer camp culminates in a screening of the youth performance. Inclusivity, creativity, innovation, and meeting children where they are, are guiding principles of the summer camp.

“When Caroline Elementary Principal Mary Grover approached us to collaborate on this project, I looked at our plan to not take on anything new this season and chucked it right out the window,” said Erin Marteal, executive director, Ithaca Children’s Garden.

Ithaca Children’s Garden strives to foster authentic, child-led discovery, exploration, and play, and Caroline is known for their culture of empowering students to be leaders of their own learning. These are significant shifts in conventional education, and underpin the Caroline - Ithaca Children’s Garden partnership.

“Caroline is doing such wonderful, out of the box work with their curriculum, exploring new ways of teaching and learning for impact, we couldn’t ignore the call. As we look around the district at schools who are ready to engage with authentic, child-directed play for children’s learning and healthy development, Caroline is right at the top,” Marteal said.

The academy, besides being incredibly fun, is designed to inclusively engage learners and their families throughout the summer, with the culminating three-week camp at Caroline Elementary, completely outside. 

Caroline’s 21-acre campus includes a quarter-mile nature trail with three outdoor classrooms, apple trees, school vegetable gardens, as well as pollinator and bird habitat gardens. This outdoor learning environment is intentional, engaging and aligned to interdisciplinary studies that students participate in throughout the year. It will be the stage for this outdoor learning laboratory, and provide the backdrop for the culminating interactive performance. 

“We believe when students are given an authentic purpose and opportunity to share learning, they engage and succeed,” said Principal Mary Grover.



Mary Grover, Caroline Elementary, 607-342-8748, 
Erin Marteal, Ithaca Children’s Garden, 607-319-4203,