New: The Marist Fellows Program at Sprout Creek Farm
An opportunity to learn and educate
August 12, 2019—For psychology major Frank Merenda ’22, the decision to apply to be a Marist Fellow at the College’s Sprout Creek Farm was an easy one. “The idea of working with kids and animals really struck me as a potentially awesome experience because I enjoy working with children and I’m always willing to challenge myself,” he said.
This summer, Merenda was one of eight students who worked at Sprout Creek as a Marist Fellow. The program came about as part of the farm’s revamping of its summer camp experiences. Sprout Creek is a nonprofit working farm and education center that offers day camps and overnight camps for children ranging in age from 5-16. Since Sprout Creek transferred control of its operations to Marist early in 2018, the College has been actively looking at the educational opportunities the farm affords for students.
Dr. Deborah Gatins, Dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, jumped at the chance to place students at the farm. “Students in my School are seeking careers that involve interacting with and helping people, and Sprout Creek is a perfect fit for them. The education majors are creating lessons about the farm, the psychology students are managing campers with special needs, and the social work students are helping families manage separation issues,” said Gatins. “The truth is that all of my students engage in these activities, but the bottom line is they are all enjoying the growth experiences they are providing these young campers as they learn to respect the earth and understand their connection to it.”
Marist fellows with staff at Sprout Creek Farm
Wanted: Boundless Energy
The application process for the Fellows program was a competitive one that included interviewing with Gatins and a team from Sprout Creek. The ideal candidate? “We sought students who are flexible, enjoy children and adolescents, and have boundless energy,” said Gatins.
Sprout Creek’s Education Director Kerry Gallagher echoed the need for flexibility. “We’re outside when it’s hot, and we’re outside when it’s raining. That’s farming,” she said. “You need a love of the outdoors, children, and animals.”
“This is not just a summer camp; the campers are learning while working,” said Hallie Lothrop ’21, who served as a counselor in the overnight camps while a Fellow. Lothrop’s goal is to be a school psychologist, and the experience at Sprout Creek was “perfect for that because you’re dealing with the kids from the time they are dropped off on Sunday until pick-up on Friday. There’s homesickness to deal with, but we worked through it.” The best part? “The kids’ faces and seeing them see the animals.”
Yeison Ramirez ’21 working with overnight campers at the goat pen
Mentor, Facilitator, Teacher
Gallagher led the training to prepare the Marist Fellows for work. “I emphasized their role as leaders, but also as learners. The job of a Fellow is really to be a mentor, facilitator, and teacher,” Gallagher noted. And she was pleased with the outcome. “The Marist Fellows were 100 percent present with the campers, and they were great leaders. They needed to interact with parents every day, release children to their caregivers, and maintain a safe and fun camp environment while learning new skills themselves.”
Because Sprout Creek is a working farm, the camp integrates science and farming. Gallagher readily admits that farming is not in everyone’s comfort zone. “Farming is very different than the way the vast majority of us have lived, so these students really had to stretch themselves—and they did,” she said.
Gallagher wants to bring more opportunities to students and envisions the Marist Fellows as a year-round program that could be expanded to include other majors such as environmental science.
For Merenda, it was a major growth experience. “This job allowed me to adopt a leadership role and teach kids about farm life and agriculture. I learned how to work with farm animals and how to teach children in a new way. I feel like I have a second family at Sprout Creek Farm; everyone was welcoming and friendly. I would absolutely recommend this program to Marist classmates.”