Farm Program Grows in the Forest at Clearpool

May 12, 2021

Inside the Nature Classroom on the Clearpool campus, student Daniel learns to properly hold a ferret with staff Maggie Pasquarella.

From its roots as a day therapy program with only five students and a handful of classroom animals, the human-animal experience at our Clearpool campus has developed into an important part of the student curriculum that incorporates a barn, garden, and nature center.

A nature-based approach to education thrives at Clearpool

Farm Teacher April Fiorenza poses with a bearded dragon.

The Clearpool farm program’s first full academic year kicked off in May 2012 with three classes, giving those students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience learning about animals and nature. Farm teacher April Fiorenza started with just a few guinea pigs, doves, and rats tucked inside a tiny classroom within the barn. As she continued to expand the program, tenacious efforts by the Clearpool staff relocated the classroom to a freestanding building that had served as a preschool, and offered a bright open space that was ideal for learning. Now known as the Nature Room, it is home to 20 small animals and reptiles, including a hedgehog, a chinchilla, a ferret, snakes, geckos, and bearded dragons. Students interact with these diverse creatures, as well as 26 farm animals that come to the barn regularly from Brewster campus, to study topics in animal care, health and nutrition, ecosystems, and the natural world.

Clearpool’s classrooms, farm, and forest enrich the experience of learning.

Images shows Popper Farm at Clearpool with two white sheep in the foreground and a red barn and trees in the background.

Popper Farm & Garden, Clearpool Campus

The Popper Farm & Garden, tucked away near forest trails with a stunning view of sprawling mountains, is bustling with students, summer camp kids, and staff who are looking to spend some time with the farm animals or harvest fresh student-grown vegetables. Maggie Pasquarella is the animal caretaker and oversees the Learn & Earn program on campus. This popular Green Chimneys job experience provides students with opportunities to assist directly with animal care and other campus tasks. Clearpool jobs are available at the farm, the Nature Room, and in the garden or greenhouse where students can learn about innovations in horticulture by tending two aeroponic towers that grow vegetables to feed the reptiles in the Nature Room during the garden’s dormant winter months.

Under the guidance and support of Maureen Doherty and the farm team at the Brewster campus, the Clearpool staff work to ensure consistency of programming and thorough attention to the animals. The students bring their own unique backgrounds and interests to the farm program and together with the staff, all are eager to see the human-animal experience continue to grow!

Learn more about the therapeutic day program at Clearpool

Green Chimneys School is a NYS-approved special education school with two locations in Putnam County, NY. Our Clearpool Campus in Carmel serves day students in grades 4–8, while our Brewster Campus serves day and residential students in grades K–12. For over seven decades Green Chimneys has woven human-animal interactions and nature-based activities into curricula and therapies. This approach is not only at the core of our organizational identity, it’s carried out on both campuses with great planning and therapeutic intention.