Associate Professor Radha Jagannathan and Cook College Professor Michael J. Camasso have created “Nurture through Nature,” an after-school and summer enrichment program for New Brunswick elementary school children. As related to Rutgers Focus, Jagannathan and Camasso were inspired to launch the program after seeing the disparity in academic test scores between urban and suburban school systems.
The two professors believe that children’s affinity to “birds, flowers, snakes and stars” at an early age could be parlayed into interest in science, nature and health. The program they created, Nurture Through Nature, attempts to raise proficiency levels through hands-on learning as well as using math and language skills to study the environment. The hands-on element involves creating an urban community park for the students and their families.
To bring the proposal to fruition, Jagannathan and Camasso brought the idea to Rutgers’ Academic Excellence Fund, which provided funds to get the project underway. Johnson & Johnson also agreed to help, seeing the project as part of its ongoing partnership with Rutgers to build collaborative networks addressing priorities in health care and education.
Nurture thru Nature
Jagannathan, Camasso and four of their graduate students surveyed the neighborhood surrounding New Brunswick’s Paul Robeson Community School on foot, knocking on more than 400 doors to gauge interest, solicit ideas, and identify community leaders. Many in the community said they wanted to improve their children’s enrichment programs and were willing to help.
At Nurture Through Nature’s kickoff meeting in December, dozens of neighbors, nonprofit organizations, funders, New Brunswick school officials, and members of the Rutgers community, including Dorothea Berkhout, the Bloustein School’s associate dean, offered their support. The program is starting with 25 to 30 third-to-sixth graders selected at random from the Paul Robeson Community School. Committees set to work on curriculum, gardening and nutrition. Jagannathan heads an evaluation group, which will monitor progress for at least three years.