Kids Discover the Trail! Celebrates a Decade of Discovery

September 22, 2014

Kids Discover the Trail! Celebrates a Decade of Discovery

By Terry Byrnes, President of the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI) in collaboration with Charlie Trautmann, Executive Director of the Sciencenter; Frank Robinson, retired Director of the Johnson Museum of Art; and Don Rakow, retired Director of the Cornell Plantations.

Can you imagine elementary school children discovering the world – right here in Tompkins County – through experiences that inspire them to become more engaged as students, better critical thinkers and lifelong learners?

Kids Discover the Trail! (KDT!) does all this, and more, by providing field trips with educational programming at the eight world-class Discovery Trail organizations. Students study animals in art, learn how libraries work, identify fossils, analyze wind energy , identify wildflowers, re-enact 18th century schooling, find bird habitats, and share leadership challenges. In addition to field trips, KDT!features classroom activities, social interaction, and a special book for each student,  which builds on the field trip experience.

Why is KDT! Important?

KDT! is a unique learning experience for our young people broadening their knowledge and inspiring lifelong interests. KDT! creates equal access for all students and teachers to the Discovery Trail. KDT! attracts families to the Discovery Trail as students bring their families to see what they learned.

“Reflecting on the first ten years of KDT!, I am so proud of this collaborative effort and  the participation of over 25,000 students since it began”, says Don Rakow. “TheKDT! model successfully provides meaningful, hands on experiences that support classroom learning and engage students’ imaginations.”

“Reflecting on the first ten years of Kids Discover the Trail!, I am so proud of this collaborative effort and  the participation of over 25,000 students since it began”, says Don Rakow. “TheKDT! model successfully provides students and teachers with meaningful, hands-on experiences that support classroom learning and engage students’ imaginations.”

School district teachers and Discovery Trail educators collaborate to design and present comprehensive student experiences using Discovery Trail resources to align with the New York State Learning Standards. Students develop important communications skills and collaborative problem solving. They learn that museums and libraries are fun and inviting places where they can explore new ideas and gain a better understanding of their local and global communities. Our community can be proud of KDT!

How Does KDT! Work?

Each grade, Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade, is linked with one of the Discovery Trail organizations each year, with grade and site specific curriculum designed for KDT!.Pre-Kindergarten is linked with the Johnson Museum of Art, Kindergarten with the Tompkins County Public Library, first grade with the Museum of the Earth, second grade with the Sciencenter, third grade with the Cornell Plantations, fourth grade with the Eight Square Schoolhouse, and fifth grade with both the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Cayuga Nature Center.

As students advance from one grade to the next, they move to a different Discovery Trail site so that at the end of their seven years, they have experienced programs at all eight. Social interaction is part of the Ithaca program to help students from our eight elementary schools gain a better understanding of each other and have connections across the district before middle school.  KDT! Ithaca partners all 3000 Ithaca students in over 150 classrooms with another classroom at the same grade level for the activities.

KDT! in Ithaca is funded by annual charitable donations to IPEI and is supported by the ICSD. In Trumansburg, donations are made to the Trumansburg Central School District Foundation (TCSDF) which partners with its District. To expand the program, the Discovery Trail is coordinating programming and financial support for all districts.

How did KDT! Start?

IPEI has been connecting classrooms with community resources through our grants to teachers since 1996, but we were seeking additional ways to connect Ithaca City School District (ICSD) students and teachers with our community. The KDT! vision was first introduced at a workshop with over 250 parents, teachers, local business people and Discovery Trail representatives in April 2004. According to Frank Robinson, “It was a wildly ambitious idea to create excitement about learning by connecting students by grade level with the world class resources of the Discovery Trail. Not only did lesson content have to be developed, but also the challenging logistics of moving so many students from different schools to all eight Discovery Trail sites. “

After six months of planning, KDT! began as a pilot centered around the field trip. Initial funding was provided by local foundations and businesses. As the impact and logistics were evaluated and improved, program enhancements were added to the core trip, including a book related to that year’s theme, pairings of students from different schools to increase understanding across the community, and additional field trips to extend learning and increase social interaction.

Each year, more students participated as funding was raised and as teachers learned of the program’s benefits. By 2009, ICSD reached 100% student involvement where it remains today.

What are the Future Plans?

KDT! is a priority of IPEI which continues to evaluate, improve and manage the Ithaca program going forward. “KDT!is a Discovery Trail priority as it aligns with our mission of providing accessible educational opportunities,” stated Charlie Trautmann. As word spread about the Ithaca program, other districts expressed interest in joining KDT!. In the spring of 2010, Trumansburg Central Schools used the KDT!Ithaca model for Trumansburg Kids Explore and Discover, and now is under the countywide KDT! umbrella. In the spring of 2014, Groton Central Schools started with a fifth grade pilot and hopes to expand to other grades this year. The Discovery Trail is collaborating with the other three school districts in Tompkins County (Newfield, Lansing and Dryden) to help make KDT! available to their students as well.

We welcome community support for the continued success of KDT!

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