Building Community through Conservancy in Lower School Science

Holly Caldwell
Stroll past the Lower School’s pollinator garden in the spring and you’ll see preschoolers engaging in a delicate dance with monarch butterflies. Initially, Shipley’s youngest students are likely more enchanted with the thought of chasing these winged creatures than understanding their deeper connection to our environment. But much like the maturation cycle of the monarch, under the tutelage of Lower School Science teacher Dan Del Duca, students will graduate from tracking animal prints in the snow in Pre-K and Kindergarten, to learning about the water cycle as second graders, to conducting chemical tests to determine the overall health of the Mill Creek. Over the years, fifth graders have collected data that shows a high increase of chloride levels after snow storms due to road salt being applied to area roads.

Each hands-on activity is designed so that students can participate in the decade-long partnership Mr. Del Duca has cultivated with the Lower Merion Conservancy (LMC). Working toward the mutual goal of caring for the local watershed, Mr. Del Duca’s students work in collaboration with the LMC to raise community awareness of this issue. Shipley’s yearlong program on sustainability is key to supporting this mission, as it helps students understand their individual role in the larger ecosystem, which “gives them a sense of personal responsibility of caring for our environment,” explains Mr. Del Duca.

To protect our watershed and in collaboration with Shipley’s horticulture program, this spring the group will build a rain garden on the Lower School’s campus to filter water and trap runoff. Though grounded in science, this project encapsulates all aspects of life in the real world. “It’s scientific, mechanical, and mathematical, but at its core are social elements, because it affects us all as human beings.” Mr. Del Duca encourages all students to view environmentally based endeavors through a new lens: “Projects reach their full potential when everyone in the community participates. When the methodical student works alongside the humanistic dreamer, that’s when the magic happens.”
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.