Friends and Neighbors

Kids learning about environment at Deering Estate

The Deering Estate Foundation recently honored Community Champions for excellence in science enrichment. At the awards ceremony are Perrine Elementary fifth-grade students Eddie Chappell and Katelyn Steele with Marta Weeks-Wulf (center), the 2013 Champion Educational Partner.
The Deering Estate Foundation recently honored Community Champions for excellence in science enrichment. At the awards ceremony are Perrine Elementary fifth-grade students Eddie Chappell and Katelyn Steele with Marta Weeks-Wulf (center), the 2013 Champion Educational Partner.

Special to the Miami Herald

On their regular visits to the Deering Estate at Cutler, 60 students in the second through fifth grades at Perrine Elementary School get to hold scorpions, check out the African Spurs Tortoise and feed a four-foot-long White Throat Monitor lizard.

They also work at on-site experiments and have lab time.

Third-grade teacher Megan O'Neill Gonzalez said her students have created their own biomes, become geologists and formed an aquifer, and collected artifacts for scientific research.

“I see my students learning to understand and appreciate the world around them, and as a teacher, it makes my heart sing,” she said.

The students are participating in the inaugural 30-week program called Nurturing Environmental Stewards of Today and Tomorrow or N.E.S.T.T. It is an extension of the Deering Estate’s award-winning Living Classroom/Eco-Academy and the success of the programs so far is amazing.

Tests scores are up, said Perrine Elementary Principal Maileen Ferre.

“We are bringing science to life by providing students with inquiry-based and highly stimulating activities where theory and application collide,” Ferre said. “These experiences have allowed students to think critically and have reignited their love for science and a higher respect for the environment around them. I am very excited to be part of this groundbreaking program which has the potential to revolutionize the way we teach science.”

The students also go on hikes, study the behavior of native animals, and document their findings through illustrations and writings in their nature journals.

And once a week the Deering Estate educators travel to the school’s campus with specimens, artifacts, arts and crafts and PowerPoint presentations to work alongside the science teachers in class.

The Deering Estate Foundation recently honored its Champions in the Community who “have shown a commitment to helping with education, conservation and preservation through on-site programs at the historic estate.”

Marta Weeks-Wulf was honored as the 2013 Champion Educational Partner for her support of the N.E.S.T.T. program between the Education and Interpretative Staff at the Estate and the children in fifth grade at Perrine Elementary School.

"Miss Gigi" Daneri Gay, a retired teacher and volunteer in the program, also was honored as a mentor, friend, confidant and teacher to the students.

Deering Estate Foundation Executive Director Mary Pettit described the

N.E.S.T.T. program as, “another example of the amazing synergy that continues to thrive on the estate.”

As the philanthropic arm of the Deering Estate at Cutler, the Foundation has committed to fund the N.E.S.T.T. program with Perrine Elementary for the first three years.

“The encouraging feedback from the teachers, parents, students and the Estate’s educators continues to inspire individuals and corporations alike to join with us to meet the funding requirements of the program,” Pettit said. “You’ve gotta love this community and we couldn’t be more grateful!”

And in science class, students “can answer questions and give amazing details of their experiences and newly acquired knowledge in a heartbeat...and deliver them with a smile,” said third grade teacher Gonzalez.

“They truly consider themselves to be scientists in the making,” she said.

To learn more about the N.E.S.T.T. program and funding opportunities, contact Pettit at the Deering Estate Foundation, at 305-235-1668, ext. 266, or at

To inquire about enrolling in the N.E.S.T.T. program, contact Principal Ferre, at 305-235-2442.


What happens when the Red Mice and the Blue Mice fight over cheese? Children at nine public elementary schools are learning about conflict-resolution through Orchestra Miami’s latest project to bring David Chesky’s The Mice War opera to Miami-Dade County.

The group also will present one public performance at 4 p.m., Feb. 9 at Pinecrest Gardens’ Banyan Bowl, 11000 SW 57th Ave. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. Children 2 and younger admitted free of charge with lap seating only.

The production teaches the value of non-violence and the acceptance of cultural diversity while introducing the students to classical music. Schools hosting performances are Leonora B. Smith Elementary, Comstock Elementary, Arcola Lakes Elementary, Liberty City Elementary, Frederick Douglas Elementary, Bright Elementary, South Hialeah Elementary, Perrine Elementary, and Bunche Park Elementary.

Each school also receives study guides with suggested activities to help prepare the students for the performances. The orchestra is collaborating with the Florida Grand Opera and features three young artists in their program.

The singers are accompanied by eight professional musicians form Orchestra Miami, conducted by Brian Onderdonk and directed by A. Scott Parry.

“We wanted to find a project which would have relevance to the students,” said Orchestra Miami Founder and Artistic Director Elaine Rinaldi. “We live in an increasingly violent society, and this piece was chosen in response to the issues of increase bullying and gun violence. We hope that teachers and parents will be able to use the subject matter of The Mice War to start a conversation with their children about non-violence.”

Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006.


The next New Neighbors Club of South Dade lunch will be 11 a.m., Feb. 12 at the Killian Palms Country Club, 9950 SW 104th St. Everyone is welcome to attend with a reservation. Call 305-595-0213. The cost is $26.

This social club began as the South Dade Chapter of Welcome Wagon in 1949 and has expanded to include all area residents interested in meeting their neighbors and learning about their community.

Monthly luncheons in friendly settings feature guest speakers and entertainers from around South Florida. There are currently more than 170 women members representing many South Florida neighborhoods. They also organize theater shows, cruises, day trips, game days, movie outings, book clubs, coffee get-togethers and more.

The annual dues are $35. Check out this group at its new Facebook page at


The South Florida Writers Association is set for the fourth annual Mango Writers Association Conference, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 22 at the Backyard Museum, 11701 NW 12th St. in Plantation. The daylong event includes exciting presentations by award-winning authors and journalists. For more details visit

The conference has a prepaid admission cost of $30, $20 for students, for all of the writer sessions, a Jimmy John's Box Lunch, and a tour of the Our Backyard Museum with American artifacts from the 18th through 20th centuries. Conference admission is $40 at the door and space is limited to 50 persons.

To register, send a check, made out to the South Florida Writers Association, to Mort Laitner, 8679 SW 51 St., Cooper City, FL 33328. Act quickly as the conference is selling out fast.


Join the Southern Cross Astros at the free Family Fun Night, 7-10- p.m., Feb. 7 at the Fruit & Spice Park, 24801 SW 187 Ave., Homestead. The Astros will arrange hi-tech equipment in the dark outback to show you bright Jupiter and its satellite moons, the Great Orion Nebula, Mercury low in the southwest, star clusters, the First Quarter Moon and more.

Bring your binoculars and telescopes. There will be tram rides in the park, a campfire, and members say you can see and pet a fluffy white Arctic wolf. Refreshments are available at low cost. Call 305-247-5727.

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at

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