Ten Stories for Ten Years: IPEI Celebrates Kids Discover the Trail! Ithaca’s First Decade

June 16, 2015
Monthly articles about Kids Discover the Trail! (KDT!) Ithaca have been generously published by Tompkins Weekly commemorating the tenth anniversary of this unique program for Ithaca City School District (ICSD) elementary school students. Different individuals have researched and written the feature stories covering the many facets of KDT! Ithaca. With this tenth edition, the year-long celebration of the “Decade of Discovery” will be summarized with an eye to the future.
In September, four of the founders of KDT! Ithaca reflected on the impetus for creating the ambitious partnership between the Discovery Trail, ICSD, and the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI). “I am so proud of this collaborative effort and the participation of over 25,000 students since it began”, said Don Rakow, retired director of the Cornell Plantations. “TheKDT! model successfully provides students and teachers with meaningful, hands-on activities that support classroom learning and engage students’ imaginations.”
Every one of the 2,900 students in the ICSD’s eight elementary schools has experiences each year that coordinate their grade level learning goals with one of the eight world-class venues of the Discovery Trail: Cayuga Nature Center, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell Plantations, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Museum of the Earth at PRI (Paleontological Research Institute), Sciencenter, The History Center in Tompkins County, and Tompkins County Public Library. 
Terry Byrnes, past president of IPEI and chair of the KDT! Ithaca Steering Committee, explained that 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 all eight programs. “Social interaction is also part of the Ithaca program which helps students from our elementary schools gain a better understanding of each other and have connections across the large district before middle school.”  KDT! Ithaca partners all ICSD elementary students in over 150 classrooms with another classroom at the same grade level for the field trip. There are also many classroom-based pre- and post-trip activities.
When KDT! was a pilot in 2005, Executive Director of the Sciencenter Charlie Trautmann expressed: “For the Discovery Trail, the program will help fulfill our mission to better share our educational resources with the community.  For our community, we believe that increased exposure to the arts, science and learning benefits everyone.”  In an Ithaca Journal editorial that May, IPEI was commended for its role initiating KDT!: “These institutions are jewels, but they only achieve their full worth when all members of the community are able to take advantage of their assets.  By bringing thousands of kids to these sites—at no cost to the students or area taxpayers—IPEI has enhanced its own already significant value to Ithaca.”
In October, “KDT! Books Enhance Experiences with Discovery Trail” by Heather Zimar described the use of take-home books that correspond with the themes of each grade level-site pairing.  “KDT! Books were first added to the program as an important way to re-enforce the content from the trip and add a literacy component,” said Byrnes. “They also create a connection between the family and the student’s KDT! experience.” “Giving a book is a wonderful way to remind the child of their visit, and it is wonderful to be able to give a book to a child to have as their very own to keep,” said Sarah O’Shea, educator with the Tompkins County Public Library.  “Any way we can increase a child’s at-home library the better. Children should be surrounded by books!  It’s also a very concrete sign to the families of what their child did.”
“Buddies Are Brought Together by KDT!” was published in November. “The KDT! program epitomizes our unrelenting goals of community and learning here in Ithaca,” said Ithaca High School Principal Jason Trumble. “Kids connecting and learning together across elementary schools is a great introduction to the relationships they will develop in middle school. Our yearbooks are filled with pictures of students on the trail, and students readily recollect their experiences with one another. As a longtime secondary administrator, I continue to marvel at the deep impact KDT! has had, and continues to have, on our youth preparing them for middle/high school and beyond.”
Over its history, KDT! has relied on generous donations to IPEI by many individuals, foundations and businesses. In December, “ KDT! Ithaca’s 10 Years Possible Due to Community Support” examined the importance of charitable gifts that ensure that all students have the same chances to learn with the educators of the Discovery Trail. To participate inKDT! trips, teachers don’t have to seek outside funding and the students don’t have to sell candy bars or fundraise. It’s all paid for by IPEI’s sponsors and donors while the ICSD provides transportation for all 150 trips annually, reported IPEI Board Member Marshall McCormick.
“Discovery Trail Recognizes Value of KDT!” was written by Nancy Grossman, Discovery Trail Coordinator.  She said, “At the Discovery Trail’s own ten-year mark, our board considered our mission and how to best serve our community and achieve our goal of lifelong learners. The conclusion was to reach out to all elementary students in Tompkins County schools and thusKDT! grew to be the Discovery Trail’s priority program. The Discovery Trail member organizations continue to work on extending this educational opportunity to all county school districts and to all elementary grade levels within each district.” Each of the Discovery Trail organizations has a staff educator who has worked with ICSD teachers to make the KDT! field trip the most engaging and educational experience possible.  The other Tompkins County school districts have this foundation to build upon when adopting KDT! programming.
Holly Kazarinoff, Coordinator of Cooperative Enrichment Services at TST BOCES, wrote ”Educators, Teachers Connect with KDT!”. To make it easier for teachers and educators to connect before each cycle of trips, there is one annual gathering for the 150 adults who work together to meet in one place.  After greeting friends, partaking in delicious snacks, and hearing some inspirational words; the teachers divide into grade levels and meet with their site’s educators to share what’s working well and what could be done differently.
In March, “Transportation Plays Key Role in KDT!” included Jennifer Engel, president of IPEI who helped found KDT! as well as IPEI: “I am so very proud and in awe of how well the teachers and the bus drivers and Transportation Department have worked together over the years to improve and respond to the enormous task of moving every elementary student to the DT sites. Everyone works under the basic premise that this is a great experience for our children and worth every ounce of effort it takes to make it happen.”
“Parents Recognize the Benefits of KDT!” included how KDT! Ithaca connects school, community and family. Lauren Loiacono, parent of three Caroline Elementary School students, has chaperoned many trips: “I have been able to witness a number of my children’s classmates experience community resources to which they otherwise would not have been exposed,” She said, “KDT! field trips give every student in the Ithaca schools the opportunity to experience a variety of educational gems in our community. These trips are so important to help establish common experience among all students, regardless of socio-economic background and access to transportation and other means.”
Randi Beckmann, Teacher Liaison and member of the KDT! Steering Committee, worked with parent Mya Thompson on “Technology Tools Extend KDT Learning KDT!” for May. KDT! has prompted teachers to develop new applications of technology to strengthen student learning. In turn new opportunities are now available for ICSD students to use technology. ICSD Director of Technology Dominick Lissi remarked, “KDT! Ithaca is a fantastic opportunity for our students, providing them with both an immersive and transformative, hands-on experience. I’m thrilled that KDT! has been a springboard for innovative uses of technology.”
Since KDT! is a priority of IPEI, it continues to evaluate, improve and manage the Ithaca program while the Discovery Trail is taking increased responsibility for fundraising, marketing and coordination during this period of county-wide expansion. “KDT! as a Discovery Trail priority aligns with our mission of providing accessible educational opportunities,” stated Trautmann. As word spreads about the Ithaca program, other districts are interested in joiningKDT!. 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 2014 and 2015, Groton, Newfield and Lansing began pilots.
As one parent commented: “Each Discovery Trail site is rich in experience and learning opportunities, and it would be a mistake to not share these gems with all of our schoolchildren.” To get involved as a supporter or volunteer, or to help make connections across Tompkins County, visit www.ipei.org and www.kidsdiscoverthetrail.org .
By Mary Grainger, IPEI Vice President involved with the Public Relations, Development, andKDT! Committees
KDT! Turns Ten: A Decade of Discovery Part 1, Tompkins Weekly, Sept. 15, 2014
KDT! Books Enhance Student Experiences with Discovery Trail, Tompkins Weekly, Oct. 13, 2014, p.4
‘Buddies’ Are Brought Together by KDT, Tompkins Weekly, Nov. 17, 2014, p.4
Donors Make KDT Programs Possible, Tompkins Weekly, Dec. 15, 2014, p.3
Discovery Trail Recognizes Value of KDT, Tompkins Weekly, Jan. 12, 2015,p.3
Educators, Teachers Connect with KDT, Tompkins Weekly, Feb. 9, 2015, p.8
Transportation Plays Key Role in KDT, Tompkins Weekly, Mar. 9, 2015, p.9
Parents Recognize the Benefits of KDT, Tompkins Weekly, Apr. 13, 2015, p.8
Technology Tools Extend KDT Learning, Tompkins Weekly, May 11, 2015, p.3
Ten Stories for Ten Years, Tompkins Weekly, June 15, 2015 p. 5 
Recognize a Student’s Teachers or School with a Gift to IPEIIthaca High Senior Created Video for IPEI