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A collaboration in July 2018 with the American Horticultural Society helped Cornell Botanic Gardens advance its strategic goal to cultivate the next generation of biocultural guardians. The American Horticultural Society’s (AHS) 26th annual National Children & Youth Garden Symposium (NCYGS) took place on the Cornell campus July 11, 2018 to July 14, 2018.

This professional development event brought together hundreds of educators, garden designers, community leaders, youth program coordinators, and others from across the country who are dedicated to connecting children and youth to the natural world. The theme was to cultivate tomorrow’s gardeners by energizing, inspiring, and training today’s garden educators. Cornell Botanic Gardens contributed to the educational offerings of the symposium with tours, an open house, and a session about engaging teen audiences.

Cascadilla Gorge Hike

During an extended hike, participants learned about the natural and cultural history of Cascadilla Gorge, a beautiful and iconic natural area connecting the Cornell campus with downtown Ithaca. Led by Todd Bittner, director of natural areas, Sarah Fiorello, interpretation coordinator, and Mike Roberts, natural areas project manager, the tour offered views of waterfalls, wildflowers, trees, and exposed Devonian bedrock.

Open House at Nevin Welcome Center

During the open house, symposium participants explored the specialty gardens around the Nevin Welcome Center, which feature rhododendrons, groundcovers, herbs, tropical containers, ornamentals, vegetables, and more. Volunteer Garden Guides answered questions.

“It was great fun interacting with so many wonderful garden enthusiasts from across the country, and to see the gardens through their eyes,” said Kevin Moss, adult education and volunteer coordinator.

Youth Education Symposium

In a session titled “Teaching Sustainability through the Lens of Outdoor Experiences,” participants explored the nuts and bolts of running a teen gardening program, as well as the benefits to participating teens. Donna Levy, environmental educator at Cornell Botanic Gardens, shared her experience running the PEEPS (Plantations’ Environmental Education for Sustainability) program, which engaged teens in  participation-based activities that raised ecological awareness and understanding, cultivated an environmental ethic, and developed skills for future action.

When working with teens, leaders must strike a balance between the work students must do to learn, and providing for a fun and fulfilling experience, Levy said. Her key to success: “Help teens develop a love for the work they’re doing, and the rest will follow.”