BCES students embrace nature on snowshoes

By Amanda Loviza
Lisa Lyons, owner of Morgan Outdoors in Livingston Manor, helps Benjamin Cosor Elementary fifth grader Geovanna identify a tree on the school’s wooded trail, where Geovanna and her extended day program spend their Wednesday afternoons snow shoeing.

The moment their snowshoes were strapped on, a dozen Benjamin Cosor Elementary School (BCES) fifth graders took off running across 12 inches of fresh powder, laughing and scooping up snowballs.

Snowshoeing is the latest activity that has been introduced to the BCES Trail extended day group. With the help of a Sullivan Renaissance grant, and a Cornell Cooperative Extension donation, trail coordinators Ms. Leah Exner and Mr. Mark Spina were able to get snowshoes for 16 children and two adults from Morgan Outdoors, a Livingston Manor shop owned by Lisa Lyons. The fifth grade extended day group got their first snowshoe lesson on Feb. 1, and they have not stopped smiling.

“The kids are absolutely thrilled about this experience,” Ms. Exner said.

None of the students in the group had ever snowshoed before, Ms. Exner said, and some of them didn’t even own boots or winter accessories. Some of the Renaissance grant money was used to buy boots, gloves and hats, to ensure every child could participate.

The decade-old BCES Trail had not been used in several years when Ms. Exner decided to resurrect it last year. Fourth graders during the fall extended day session used pedometers to track their steps and learn about healthy living, and after winter the next group will use the trail in a different way.

“We brought it back to life,” Ms. Exner said.

As the children stomped through the woods in their snowshoes on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-February, they also used binoculars to look for birds, and practiced tree and animal track identification. They even got an impromptu lesson on the circle of life when a dead deer was found frozen in the snow.

Ms. Lyons, an avid snowshoer and outdoorswoman, said she has always wanted to see snowshoeing at schools. There is so much to see in a winter landscape, Ms. Lyons said, and the fifth graders have shown a genuine interest in everything she has taught them during their snowshoe outings.

“They seem to really catch fire when they get just a little bit of information,” Ms. Lyons said.

The trail has already opened up so many possibilities for teachers and students, Ms. Exner said. One class built birdhouses and another class is building acknowledgment boards to thank those who have contributed to the trail. Rails are being painted to line the trail, and Ms. Exner expects every student in the school to participate in painting. Mr. Aaron Tremper, a teacher and artist who assists with the extended day program, wants to teach the students to draw what they see on the trail, and physical education teacher Kate Santoianni is going to teach orienteering skills.

“The more hands in, the more it becomes everyone’s trail,” Ms. Exner said.

When retired teacher Lee Smassanow built the trail 10 years ago, Ms. Exner said, he created a hands-on opportunity for students to learn about the world around them, and now the trail will continue to teach those lessons of nature and wellness to future students.

“It’s a lot more than I ever thought it would be,” Ms. Exner said.

Benjamin Cosor Elementary School teacher Leah Exner, center, leads fifth grade students on a snowshoe walk along the BCES Trail Wednesday, Feb. 15.