Dexter Park Student Learning Loop opens in Orange

  • Amanda Carotenuto, community engagement and youth education coordinator at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, spearheaded the completion of the Dexter Park Student Learning Loop that opened on May 6 near Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Fifth- and sixth-grade students view the trail book at the start of the Dexter Park Student Learning Loop that opened on May 6 near Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools in Orange. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The trail book at the start of the Dexter Park Student Learning Loop that opened on May 6 near Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • The Dexter Park Student Learning Loop opened on May 6 near Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • The Dexter Park Student Learning Loop opened on May 6 near Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • This kiosk with information about mammals sits along the Dexter Park Student Learning Loop that opened on May 6 near Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • The Dexter Park Student Learning Loop opened on May 6 near Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • The Dexter Park Student Learning Loop opened on May 6 near Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • The Dexter Park Student Learning Loop opened on May 6 near Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 5/24/2022 4:25:13 PM
Modified: 5/24/2022 4:25:12 PM

ORANGE — A grand opening for the Dexter Park Student Learning Loop trail was held earlier this month, three years after the decision was made to have students help clear, reroute and label the existing path.

The roughly 475 students from the adjacent Fisher Hill Elementary and Dexter Park Innovation schools were allowed on May 6 to explore the quarter-mile loop they helped ready and to learn about the history of its creation behind the school’s upper parking lot on Dexter Street. Christopher Dodge, Dexter Park’s principal, said he expects classes will regularly visit the trail, which he said can be connected to the curriculum, particularly for science.

“My hope is that teachers and classes use it either when they go out for breaks or for recess time,” Dodge said. “Not every kid likes to play games at recess.”

Amanda Carotenuto, the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s community engagement and youth education coordinator who helped get the trail project across the finish line, explained that teachers will be able to incorporate the picturesque trail into their lesson plans.

“All the teachers seemed excited to have it finished and able to be used,” she said.

There is also an outdoor pavilion that Carotenuto said could be used as a classroom accommodating 70 students.

Carotenuto said the trail was rerouted because the original path leads off school grounds. She mentioned students and staff members had “a workday,” clearing the trail and shaping it using logs found on the property. There are also four kiosks with art and nature information students compiled into trail books about conservation, plants, vertebrates and insects. One kiosk mentions there are an estimated 10 quintillion (imagine a 1 followed by 19 zeroes) insects in the world.

David Kotker, the conservation trust’s major gifts and grants manager, explained this project started with a $13,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Recreational Trails Program. He said Carotenuto, whose position is funded by AmeriCorps, wrapped up the project she inherited from a predecessor.

“Typically there’s a different AmeriCorps person holding her role every year. And the first person to write the grant to get this funded to put these (kiosks) in was Jess Tierney, who was an AmeriCorps person. She wrote it in 2019,” Kotker explained. “The idea was that all the work would be done by kids (as) part of their regular classes, the research … but then with coronavirus, we got delayed. It got completed in 2021, basically, and then the grand opening was this year.

“The kids really seemed to enjoy it when I was out here with them, when Amanda was leading folks through,” he added. “The teachers, too.”

Kotker explained the trail is a lollipop loop, with a trail going in one direction until it branches off and flows 360 degrees around, arriving back at the branch-off point — thus resembling the stick and hard candy of a lollipop.

The trail is open to the public and can be visited outside of regular school hours.

Dodge is stepping down as principal on June 30 to take a job at Thorndyke Road Elementary School in Worcester, but he said he would like the Dexter Park Student Learning Loop to become a staple of Orange’s public schools.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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