Deering Estate, Perrine Elementary join for hands-on science lesson

In a time of significant budget cuts and financial setbacks, the historic Deering Estate at Cutler remains a leader in creating innovative programs to protect and preserve our environment. The key to success lies in numerous community collaborations for funding and resources, reaching out to both the public and private sectors.

The latest endeavor of the Deering Estate Foundation and the estate’s educational and interpretative staff, is a partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools that pairs Nature-Center-to-School for hands-on learning and educational enrichment.

NESTT (Nurturing Environmental Stewards of Today and Tomorrow) is an extension of the estate’s award-winning Living Classroom/Eco-Academy, and is designed to improve a child’s academic achievement, enhance critical thinking, and develop decision-making skills through participation in highly interactive, relevant and stimulating science activities.

Sixty students in grades 2-5 at Perrine Elementary School are participating in NESTT’s inaugural 30-week curriculum, spending one day at the estate with onsite experiments and lab time.

“I am very excited to be part of this groundbreaking program which has the potential to revolutionize the way we teach science,” said Maileen Ferre, principal at Perrine Elementary. “We are bringing science to life by providing students with inquiry-based and highly stimulating activities where theory and application collide,” she 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.”

During their visits to the estate, participants have the opportunity to enjoy the natural resources using their five senses, while they explore and learn about the environment. Some of these science experiences have included holding a scorpion, examining an African Spurs Tortoise, and feeding a four-foot long White Throat Monitor. The students have gone on hikes, studied the behavior of native animals, and documented their findings through illustrations and writings in their nature journals.

Once a week the estate’s educators travel to the Perrine campus, loaded with specimens, artifacts, arts and crafts, and a Power Point presentation, to work alongside the school’s classroom science teachers.

Megan O’Neill Gonzalez, a third grade teacher at Perrine Elementary, attests to the positive results from hands-on learning.

“My students can answer questions and give amazing details of their experiences and newly acquired knowledge in a heartbeat… and deliver them with a smile. They truly consider themselves to be scientists in the making.

“By year’s end the students will have had experiences in the fields of environmental sciences, marine biology, zoology, ecology, archeology, general sciences, natural sciences, endangered species and conservation,” O’Neill Gonzalez said.

She enumerated how the students have created their own biomes, became geologists and formed an aquifer, and were archaeologists 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.”

Mary Pettit, Deering Estate Foundation executive director, described the NESTT program as, “another example of the amazing synergy that continues to thrive on the estate. It is very exciting to be a part of this initiative where the passion and focus of the staff, community leaders and partnering organizations cultivate and utilize the Estate’s rich cultural and educational resources, with the goal of creating a Nature-Center-to-School science program that can be replicated by other organizations regionally and nationally.”

As the philanthropic arm of the Deering Estate at Cutler, the Foundation has committed to fund the NESTT program in partnership 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!”

To learn more about the NESTT program and funding opportunities, contact Mary Pettit at the Deering Estate Foundation, at 305-235-1668, ext. 266, or at <>. To inquire about enrolling in the NESTT program, contact Maileen Ferre, principal, Perrine Elementary School at 305-235-2442.