Nature As Classroom

Since 1908, the Princeton-Blairstown Center (PBC) has been offering adventure-based experiential education to young people, using the wonders of the natural world as a classroom. In 2015 PBC launched the Summer Bridge Program to provide a week, free-of-charge, to young people from under-resourced communities. This academic and leadership enrichment program includes three hours a day of literacy and STEM courses to lessen summer learning loss, three hours a day of challenge course activities to develop leadership and communication skills, and an hour each day on the waterfront, canoeing, kayaking, or swimming.

For many of the students in the Summer Bridge Program, a summer at home means time spent indoors watching screens or playing video games because they lack access to quality summer programs that provide exposure to nature. In Blairstown, every day is a new day of exploration in the stream, lake, waterfall, and forest, using these settings to learn new things and develop students’ math, literacy, and environmental knowledge. The Summer Bridge Program was awarded the New York Life Foundation’s Excellence in Summer Learning Award, presented by the National Summer Learning Association.

The Center for Child and Family Achievement (CCFA) was founded in 2014 by Wanda Webster Stansbury and former Trenton Head Start Program Administrators who recognized the value of parent involvement and the need to encourage cooperative learning opportunities for the entire family beyond kindergarten. CCFA seeks to inspire and to develop stronger academic achievement in children living in poverty by addressing the total needs of the family.

A first-year Summer Bridge partner in 2019, CCFA brought 17 children from enrolled families for a week in Blairstown. Ms. Jacquelynn M. Rice, a Resource Room teacher and Dept. of Education employee of 34 years, volunteered along with The Gregory School’s Happiness Specialist Ms. Yolanda Robinson to spearhead student recruitment and chaperone children so they could attend the program.

According to CCFA’s internal pre-survey, the vast majority of the students had never hiked, gone camping, or swam in a lake, and none of the group had gone canoeing before their visit to PBC.

“We really enjoyed seeing the children’s smiles at Blairstown.You don’t see those same smiles at school every day. They were pure sunshine, even in the rain. The whole time we were there, our kids were willing to get up with a smile on their faces to participate in whatever activities were planned,” said Rice.

Rice and Robinson also shared that their students, particularly the girls, enjoyed borrowing books from the Peyton Library for the Gregory School’s practice of reading 30 minutes each day. “In the evenings, we could see the flashlights through the windows in their cabins, each one of them with the book they had chosen to read that night.”

Princeton-Blairstown Center offers individually tailored programming year-round to schools, organizations, and corporations. Princeton Friends School, Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, Peddie School, and Pennington School are all current clients. Courses can be designed to develop communication, team-building, and leadership skills over the course of one- to five-day programs. For more information, visit www.princetonblairstown.org or call 908-362-6765 ext. 1.

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