Bridging the Nature Gap: New Partnership Brings City Kids to the Great Outdoors

800 450 Stroud Water Research Center
Diane Huskinson

By Diane Huskinson

Super Geeked!

When Greg Shannon, CEO of Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, heard a chorus of voices burst through the front doors of his school, he quickly discovered it was the sound of excitement. A group of his students had just returned from Stroud™ Water Research Center, where they tossed their shoes for boots and waded into White Clay Creek to explore the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of a stream.

Shannon says, “The kids came back super geeked over just being out in nature and connecting with a waterway, and in their words, ‘We got to touch critters!’ There were organisms in the stream that they had a chance to see and touch — things they had only ever seen in a magazine or a book.”

Two Harambee Institute students collect aquatic insects from a stream.

It was their first time visiting the Stroud Center, but not the last. A new partnership between the Stroud Center and the Philadelphia-based Harambee Institute is creating opportunities for underserved inner-city students to experience hands-on outdoor environmental STEM education. Last year, the Stroud Center led two Stream School programs for Harambee students, in addition to a summer on-the-water canoeing and watershed education program at Marsh Creek State Park.

“Harambee” is Kiswahili for “Let’s Pull Together”

Harambee Institute serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade with a mission to educate students to succeed as global citizens with a clear awareness of “who I am, where I am from, where I am going, and how I get there.”

Under Shannon’s leadership, the school has leaned into its first core value of greatness, winning a steady stream of competitions in Philadelphia and regionally in engineering, robotics, speaking, and general STEM. 

Four girls and an adult mentor from the Harambee Institute robotics team.

Shannon tells his students, “No matter where life takes you, take that path with greatness.” He says the school measures greatness in high achievement but also in something else: character. “A great person for us is someone who is conscientious and produces what we call carefrontations and not confrontations. A great person is someone who engages his community in a way that demonstrates leadership and thoughtfulness in terms of being my brother’s keeper.”

A Lifetime of Opportunities

Shannon says the partnership provides opportunities to connect with nature that many of his students wouldn’t otherwise have. Indeed, America has a nature gap in which the benefits and destruction of nature are unequally distributed. “Some of our children have never traveled beyond their own neighborhoods in West Philadelphia,” says Shannon.

Executive Director Dave Arscott says he wants to create career opportunities for Harambee alumni. “We hope that as these students develop and grow, we see some of them return as interns and that we can continue to provide education and mentorship if they choose to pursue careers in STEM,” he says.

Fostering Lifetime Learning and Freshwater Stewardship 

There were lessons to be learned after the Harambee students returned from the Stroud Center. Their teachers invited the students to think about what impact their actions have on the environment. Holding up a single-use plastic water bottle, Shannon says, “What’s the harm from something we take for granted? How do we take what we saw in nature and apply that to our everyday circumstances? These questions led us to redevelop a schoolwide recycling program.”

Two Harambee Institute students looking at aquatic macroinvertebrates they collected from a stream.

What You Can Do

  • Help create opportunities for everyone to enjoy and learn about clean fresh water. To support Stroud Center–led environmental education programs with Harambee Institute and other underserved communities, contact the Development Department to make a restricted gift.
  • Stay tuned to the Harambee Institute website for news of their upcoming spring lecture and fall fundraising gala.
  • Share this story on social media and tag @StroudCenter and @histcswestphilly!