Bringing the Rainforest to District Classrooms

February 19, 2019

The Madagascar hissing cockroach was stealing the show.

Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES Assistant Naturalist Sean Mormino was explaining the ground rules to a third grade class at Buchanan-Verplanck Elementary School in the Hendrick Hudson School District, before beginning the hands-on portion of his presentation. Meanwhile, the large insect was steadily making his way to the top of his clear storage container, which was sitting on the floor at the front of the classroom -- wide open.
“It’s fine, don’t worry about him,” Mormino cheerfully reassured the students, some of whom were nervously keeping an eye on the open container. Mormino picked up the creature, petted him affectionately and continued with his presentation.

He described the different stations he had set up around the classroom: one featured products from the rainforest, including spices, woven baskets and jewelry made out of wood and shells; another held musical instruments, consisting of a pan flute and a clave (percussion instrument). At the front of the classroom, on the floor, was an animal station, featuring a leopard pelt, a long snakeskin and the adventurous hissing cockroach, which Mormino had returned to its temporary quarters.

Students circulated around the classroom, eagerly touching, smelling and playing with the different items. “The goal of the program is to help students understand why rainforests are important by showing them the many plants and animals that exist there, the indigenous tribal cultures, and the products we use every day that contain ingredients sourced from these extraordinary places,” said Mormino. 

Mormino said the rainforest program is one of his favorites. “The students responded extremely well to the program,” he said. “They were engaged during the presentation and were excited to see everything that I brought.”

For Hendrick Hudson teacher Cathy Holzman, it’s about making important connections. “We are always looking at ways to integrate curriculum,” she said. “For example, when teaching opinion writing, the reasons and supports could be connected to the layers of the rainforest and the organisms that live in each layer. This program also supports our social studies curriculum, in which students make comparisons between new cultures and our own culture.”

BOCES’ Center for Environmental Education runs programs that take place in district classrooms, local parks or at its Yorktown Heights campus. Programs support New York State Standards, stress 21st century learning and inspire respect for the natural world.