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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - West Windsor, New Jersey, USA

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West Windsor, New Jersey, USA
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Registered: July 2018
City/Town/Province: Princeton Jct
Posts: 1
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I jogged past the farm building on the way to soccer practice every Tuesday evening the summer of third grade. After games, the journey across the building was more of a trudge, but no matter what the scenario, my curious mind wondered what that building was. Could it be a farm? No, the field neighboring it was barren of crops--not blooming with wheat and corn. So, could it be an abandoned farmhouse? It was the logical explanation for the lack of crops. But why would a perfectly intact farmhouse be abandoned? Because it was haunted! That was the only explanation for the deserted, perfectly maintained farmhouse. Of course, there was always an inkling of doubt in my mind for this explanation as the Ghostbusters never visited this site. Nevertheless, I was no Nancy Drew, so I was perfectly content avoiding the potentially possessed house and instead being haunted by the uncertainty of not knowing what that building truly was, an uncertainty that haunted me for years. However, as the ghosts who did not haunt the farmhouse know, life has a funny way of working out. Today, nearly nine years after those soccer days, I organize field trips to that "haunted farmhouse"--more accurately known as the West Windsor Historical Museum, so I not only set foot in the building which gave me the creeps, but I also encourage others to visit and learn about local history.
So, how did a young girl terrified of the West Windsor Historical Museum end up organizing trips to that very location? My interest in the museum admittedly did not stem from its historical value, rather I was intrigued by its Environmental Exhibit as I had already spent quite a bit of time working to improve the local environment. For my Girl Scout Silver Award Project, I attended the meetings of the West Windsor Environmental Commission, lobbying for a ban on commercial plastic bag use. It was a rude awakening when I learned the solution to climate change was not a mere piece of legislation. Even though townships in California could implement such a ban, the members of the Environmental Commission informed my seventh grade self that the implementation of policy is more than writing the proposition. Enforcing a ban on plastic forces logistic remodeling for businesses, which is especially difficult for larger corporations. Instead of taking a political approach to improve my local community's relation with the environment, I took an educational approach to increase environmental awareness in West Windsor. More specifically, I hosted stands at the West Windsor Farmers Market where I conducted surveys on how many consumers brought their own reusable bags for shopping. At these stands, I also taught younger customers how to upcycle their old t-shirts into reusable, customizable shopping bags. Those who I met during this experience in environmental education later told me about the West Windsor Historical Museum's Environmental Exhibit, which I advertised and created lesson plans for.
When researching for this exhibit, I spent much time on the Nicodemus Wilderness Project website, specifically reading about invasive vegetation. Before stumbling upon this cite, I assumed that the mere act of planting a tree in my community would help better the environment. I, like many of my peers, did not recognize that the type of tree was even more important than my good intentions of planting it. In fact, nonnative species could be harmful to the local ecosystem as they take away resources from native species. To transform my Girl Scout Gold Award Project from a general volunteer endeavor to an Apprentice Ecologist project, I crafted lesson plans for the Environmental Exhibit that would inform students on the difference between native and nonnative species. Because of my experience lobbying for a ban on commercial plastic, I believe that education is the first step to turning out a more environmentally conscientious generation. While schools in my community teach the "Three R's" and inform students on the science of climate change, these education programs fall short in terms of making the larger issues of climate change and environmentally irresponsible behavior seem relevant to the average elementary schooler. Instead, this foundational education should be supported by details on invasive vegetation and animals in the Garden State, which is exactly the supplemental education I aimed to create in the West Windsor Historical Museum. By providing a more in depth education about the local environment, the West Windsor Historical Museum makes the community more environmentally aware, which is the first step towards protecting the environment. This project was especially needed in New Jersey -- "The Garden State" where gardens are disappearing -- because, as the demographic of this state changes, it strays farther and farther from environmentally safe practices. By reaching the West Windsor population at the grassroots level of their education, we are producing a more environmentally conscientious population.
Of course, my work with the West Windsor Historical Museum did not change the fact that the location was a hidden gem, unknown to the majority of West Windsor residents. Thus, over the past year, I have also worked to increase awareness for the West Windsor Historical Museum. By speaking at local Girl Scout and Boy Scout advisor meetings, I established a connection between the museum and the outside community, ultimately scheduling field trips for fifteen local scouting groups. I also tried arranging annual field trips for local elementary schools; however, administrative members at those schools need to review the logistics of such a trip and how well it fits the school's curriculum. Rather than not organize field trips for educational groups, I overcame this challenge by using social media to reach out to the homeschooling community, who responded with keen interest. The coordinators of all these visiting groups responded favorably to the trip. In fact, most supervisors sent thank you emails following their trips, in which I was pleased to hear that their scouts "left smiling, happy, and informed". By making improving the advertising for this location throughout my local community, I believe I have created a location where a sincere conversation about the environment and its safety can be held, bringing the community closer and the environment closer to better treatment.
Driving my brother to soccer practice today, I go past that same farmhouse, but I am no longer fearful of the building. Unfortunately, I can tell by the looks of the kids walking home from practice that the building still holds a fearsome presence. My efforts in the West Windsor Historical Museum have nearly tripled its turnout; however, by continuing this project, I hope that even more residents will be aware of this local gem and learn the detailed environmental lessons it has to offer. My Apprentice Ecologist Project has left my life with a feeling of satisfaction for I laid the groundwork for a more environmentally aware community. Due to my work in this project, I hope to become an environmental engineer in the future so that I can develop a more concrete solution to protect the environment. However, until that day comes, I will continue to build a stronger community from whom environmental safety is given the most importance.
Date: July 6, 2018 Views: 2495 File size: 10.0kb, 2182.2kb : 2428 x 1310
Hours Volunteered: 80
Volunteers: 1
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17
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