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Exploring Science at Vassar Farm

In 1982, biology professor Robert Suter and his spouse, Valerie, head of the Physics Department at Arlington high school, created the pioneering program Exploring Science at Vassar Farm to expose elementary-school children to natural history and hands-on science, and to protect Vassar Farm from encroachment by developers and others seeking to use it for non-educational purposes.  “The impetus for this program came from two directions,” wrote Suter in the VQ, 1982, “first from my concern that the college's ecological preserve is now used only for Vassar students, and is underutilized at that, and second from my realization that local public schools offer little or no hands-on science in the first three years.”

Exploring Science at Vassar Farm has been running since 1983 serving more than 50,000 children in local school districts including Poughkeepsie City Schools, Arlington Central, Hyde Park Central, as well as several private schools including Regina Coeli, Poughkeepsie Day, Faith Christian Academy, Holy Trinity, and Mizzentop Day School.  Generally the program serves 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms but has also served 4th and 5th grades.  

The purpose of the program continues to be to provide Vassar students with an opportunity to interact with school-aged children and teach them about science, as well as, to provide a venue  for local teachers to have their students experience first hand what science education can be. For the school children served, Exploring Science is very likely the only field trip they will have all year.  By teaching children about animals, plants and living things around them, executing experiments and other hands-on lessons, they can observe and touch the creatures they are learning about.  Vassar students can earn .5 unit of fieldwork credit in education or their own major.  Students must participate in training and also in an end-of-term reflection on their experiences in the program.  When they opt to receive credit, they must keep a reflective journal and turn it in for grading at the end of the semester.  Frequent check-ins with the program director is also encouraged.

Between 15 -30 Vassar students participate in Exploring Science each semester. The following are excerpts from a questionnaire about the Vassar students’ experiences:

  • “I enjoyed the overall interaction with the children/students from different schools and their excitement towards learning.”
  • “I really just enjoyed being around children because I feel their youth renews my optimism, so I really appreciated having this opportunity.” 

The program is directed by Lynn Capozzoli who can be contacted at lycapozzoli@vassar.edu