Nature center under construction at Sloper

For the last few years, a community collaboration between the Southington Board of Education, the Southington Education Foundation and YMCA Camp Sloper has been the key to giving every fourth grader in town the opportunity for a hands-on science experience. The program, called Science at Sloper, started as a pilot program funded by SEF to enhance the educational opportunities of our students in Southington.
“The objective was to give all 4th graders in Southington two visits to YMCA Camp Sloper for an out of the classroom learning opportunity. In the fall we have focused on eco-systems and wildlife in the forests, wetlands and pond. In the spring, the learning was centered on erosion and weathering,” said Mark Pooler, Outdoor Center Director.
A few years ago, talks began about building a large scale 4,000 square-foot STEM Center that featured lessons on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math at YMCA Camp Sloper.
“While the plan to build a larger STEM Center was great in concept, it was extremely challenging to make it a reality. There were a lot of logistics to get through and then there was the huge effort of fundraising. With all the other capital campaigns going on in town, this dream was going to be very difficult to bring to life,” said Pooler.
Instead, SEF began a virtual STEM University program in the local schools, allowing the staff and volunteers at YMCA Camp Sloper to go back to the drawing board and revise some plans.
“We still felt the need to have some sort of enclosed Nature Center for our day camp program and our off-season program like Science At Sloper,” Pooler said.
YMCA officials put together plans to enclose an existing pavilion and transform it into a 750 square-foot Nature Center with a small addition for storage of supplies.
Pooler met with Dawn Miceli, a past SEF president, to inform her about the intentions of a smaller scale building, allowing opportunities for expanded programming with Science at Sloper and other outdoor programs. Miceli brought the idea to the SEF Board about continuing the partnership with the YMCA and a unanimous decision was made to make a large donation toward the project.
“The SEF is proud to partner with the Southington Community YMCA on the creation of a Nature Center that will offer enrichment opportunities to our children as afforded by the abundant natural resources at YMCA Camp Sloper, Miceli said “We are also grateful that YMCA Camp Sloper officials understand and appreciate the value of providing STEM-based enrichment outside of the classroom.”
Nearly 4 years later the Science at Sloper program has proven a huge success and the partnership has just been expanded.
“The Southington Education Foundation Executive Board is extremely excited about the recent approval of the $20,000 donation that will ensure the completion of the Nature Center at the YMCA Camp Sloper,” said Jan Galati, current president of the Southington Education Foundation. With this new building the Foundation foresees the potential for expansion of programming for Southington Public School students. After the completion of the Nature Center, our students may be able to participate in a third session in the winter. We are very fortunate to have this natural habitat and it is very satisfying to see our community come together for the good of the children.”
Future plans include looking into the possibilities of a winter visit which would allow students to spend time looking at animal tracking in the snow, and then provide a place to go back inside and get warm.
“Once the building is complete, we will look at all the possibilities for expansion of the program,” Pooler said. “Perhaps that includes some additional visits for fourth graders in the winter, or maybe even getting another grade involved with some field trips and outdoor learning opportunities.”
Construction has begun on the building and completion is scheduled for late May, in time for use in the day camp program.  A ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony is also being planned.

By Tammi Naudus John Scheibenpflug and Peter DiNello of Aztech Builders work on the new nature center.

By Tammi Naudus
John Scheibenpflug and Peter DiNello of Aztech Builders work on the new nature center.

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