A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Dr. Poppletop, I Presume!

The desert, the temperate and tropical forests−oh, my! As we work through the second-grade curriculum, students in our School Partnerships Program get to explore the characteristics of three distinct biomes. Hands-on experience, like dissecting cacti and succulent plants, allows students to build a deeper understanding of the sometimes difficult concepts we cover.  And this year we’ve added an innovation that has been surprisingly effective: We begin the session by presenting the class with a postcard written by a fictional scientist we have named Dr. Poppletop. On each postcard Dr. P. presents a challenge − usually the mission is to discover how a plant can survive in a particular biome − for students to solve before the end of the two-hour session. We have gone a step further, though: Because we have discovered that our students have preconceived notions about the type of people who work in the science arena; what these scientists look like and where they are apt to live, we decided to bring Dr. P. to life. One of our Education Department interns, Diana Tavares, has taken on the Dr. Poppletop alter-ego. Diana was a Forest Project Summer Collaborative crew member and crew leader for several years. (The FPSC is a paid, summer internship at Wave Hill.)

dr-diana-poppletop-0031Diana makes a very impressive Dr. P: she has been accepted into the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens’ Certificate in Horticulture Program, and has dedicated much of her time and efforts to the Forest Project at Wave Hill. Teachers tell us afterwards that the students are amazed to learn that Dr. Poppletop is a woman. Apparently, many of the female students cheer when they meet Dr. P, and are heard to exclaim: “I can be a scientist too!” Dr. P means a great deal to me because I want students to see that there is great value in diversity−not just plant diversity, but cultural diversity that creates strong foundations in all arenas, from business and science to the arts and academia. As a Latina female educator, I have worked hard to show students that there are no limitations when you are passionate about what you do.

This entry was authored by Armina Del Toro, an Environmental Educator at Wave Hill.

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