Three Questions with… Christopher Kocher of The Wildlands Conservancy
1. Tell us about Wildlands Conservancy. What is its mission and goals?
Wildlands Conservancy is the Lehigh Valley’s nonprofit land trust. Since 1973, we’ve been creating lasting connections to nature through land protection, environmental stewardship and education. Our vision is for a Lehigh Valley and Lehigh River Watershed that contains expansive natural areas, connected green spaces, healthy waterways and an enlightened community where people embrace conservation and sustainability.
The Conservancy’s mission is to protect and restore critical natural areas and waterways, and educate the community to create a legacy of a healthy, sustainable environment for future generations. We fulfill our vision and mission through various land-protection and stewardship strategies, science-informed water quality and ecological restoration projects, environmental educational programs, comprehensive community planning efforts, and greenway and recreational trail development. Our success, while measured primarily by the lives we touch, is quantified by the more than 50,000 acres we have permanently protected and the 40,000+ residents we engage annually in our education programming.
2. The Rider-Pool Foundation provided Wildlands with a $2,000 grant to support the Wild About Learning program. How has that program helped students at 14 of the United Way’s Priority Schools across our region?
Wildlands Conservancy’s Wild About Learning program – a bi-weekly hour-long program hosted in 14 inner-city schools in the Lehigh Valley area – aims to improve reading levels by enhancing curriculum with wildlife presentations, field experiences and hands-on science programming. Curriculum aligns with the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Environment and Ecology and is evaluated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
In the 2014-2015 academic year, first grade classrooms were taught Common Core Language Arts and Math Standards through thematic ecology lessons. Instruction directly linked nonfiction themes using fictional materials, including a live educational animal presentation to accompany a new book at each one-hour visit to the classroom. These books were left with the classroom, thus allowing teachers to build a classroom library. Along with hands-on activities, students will receive a nature journal to work in during and between program meetings. Each class was transported by bus to Pool Wildlife Sanctuary, a 77.5-acre preserve owned and managed by Wildlands Conservancy, for a field experience, once in fall and again in spring. This helps provide students with the opportunity to connect and integrate what they are learning in an outdoor classroom.
3. Wildlands was recently honored with the American Trails’ 2015 “Kids and Trails Award.” What does that honor mean to the organization?
This prestigious honor re-enforces our long-time mission driven belief that it is important to give children a positive experience in nature. It is important to connect our young people with the outdoors and help create the next generation of environmental stewards. This award also recognizes the amazing and innovative programming that Wildlands Conservancy conducts here in the Lehigh Valley.