Cumming Nature Center

The Walden Project

The Walden Project is a year-long educational experience for high school and gap year students located at RMSC Cumming Nature Center in Naples, NY. We offer students an opportunity to earn college credit in an outdoor setting with an emphasis on academic independence and freedom.

IMG_0067
IMG_9845 Medium
IMG_5630

ANNUAL TUITION SCHOLARSHIP FUNDRAISER OPEN NOW THROUGH JUNE 30

This fundraiser helps make a year at Walden possible for every teenager. Please click on the donate buttons above if you are interested in helping to increase access to this transformative program. Thank you!


HAve you ever wondered what would happen if you followed your curiosity for a year, no matter where it took You?

The Walden Project – NY is a unique educational program where students ages 14-19 can earn college credit as they explore the three fundamental questions that guided Henry David Thoreau during his sojourn to Walden Pond: What is my relationship to myself? What is my relationship to my culture? What is my relationship to the natural world?

Walden provides students with the opportunity for an interdisciplinary education in an outdoor setting where they develop their own personal philosophy and individual approach to learning. With a high emphasis on academic independence and freedom, this program has proven results that have helped prepare students for college and beyond.


A Year at the Walden Project is ONE THAT YOU will always remember.

BUT DON’T JUST LISTEN TO US, LISTEN TO THOSE WHO HAVE participated:

“My worst day at Walden was a thousand times better than my best day in normal school.”
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this program saved my daughter’s life.”
“My son is so much more confident after his year at Walden.”

My Walden: A Letter from Andy, The Walden Project Ny’s founder

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into a tiny cabin in the woods next to Walden Pond to begin a two-year experiment in self-discovery in which he hoped to explore the elements of a meaningful and fulfilling life.

I think everyone should have a Walden — a time to pause and reconsider, to reconnect with nature, and to rekindle curiosity and creativity.

The story of my Walden began in central Massachusetts, about a half hour from the real Walden Pond. As a high school student, my grades were always fine, but I didn’t really like school. The problem for me wasn’t the information we were being taught, nor was it the teachers. The problem for me was the bells. Sitting there watching the clock, wishing the class would be over, wishing the day would be over, wishing the year would be over… Pretty soon it started to feel like I was spending all of my time wishing this part of my life would be over, and I wasn’t even sure if adulthood was going to be any better.

I graduated high school and decided I was going to take my first big leap of faith. I bought a backpack and a tent and started hiking the Appalachian Trail. I knew nothing about camping or hiking but deep down I had a feeling that I was going to be okay — this was my right path and I just had to see where it would take me. The experience was transformative and it gave me the confidence to attempt even more adventures. Over the next few years, I traveled, I worked on farms, I volunteered, I read, I wrote songs, I met interesting people that inspired me to want to learn even more, and eventually it led to college.

When I entered college, I was different because of these experiences. I was no longer sitting in classes watching the clock and wishing the time away; I was on fire, passionate to learn and grow as a person. My future was coming into focus and I was excited to see it unfold. It was becoming clear that I wanted to be a teacher so I could help young people find their own path, just as I did.

I met Matt Schlein in the fall of 2005 in my senior year at Sterling College in Vermont. We were both attending an education conference and that’s when I first heard about his new program, The Walden Project. I was intrigued, to say the least. He had created something that was perfectly aligned with what I hoped to do as a teacher someday.

Fast forwarding now through graduation, wedding, kids, grad school, a mortgage… Years had passed and I was becoming a seasoned public high school science teacher. I loved teaching and I was good at it, and yet, I always felt like I was swimming against the current of the education system, constrained by the confines of a standardization. Once again, the problem was the bells…

To me, the bells represent an approach to education that assumes everyone learns best in an environment of factory-like efficiency, where teachers are expected to present “The Knowledge” to their classes, and students are expected to passively and unquestioningly absorb “The Knowledge.” When the bells ring, time is up — if you didn’t learn “The Knowledge” before the bell rang, you are not keeping up… Faster! Faster! Ignore everything but “The Knowledge!” This approach to education was just as frustrating to me now as a teacher as it had been when I was a student. It was clear I needed to take some time to pause, regroup, and rethink where I was going. It was time for me to have another Walden.

In the spring of 2017, twelve years after I had first met Matt Schlein, I took a road trip to Vermont and visited The Walden Project. Being there and seeing the program in action, it became so clear to me that this was it — this is what I wanted to be doing. It was an education that was personalized, not standardized; it was a community of people learning together with a shared sense of purpose; it was a place where the students’ life experiences was the curriculum: I decided on the drive home that, after all these years, I was going to find a way to bring The Walden Project to my home in Naples, New York.

I started making phone calls, writing plans, making connections, asking for help and advice … The author, Paulo Coelho, once wrote, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” This was certainly my experience as I began this process of making The Walden Project in New York a reality.

I am grateful to everyone who has helped bring this transformative program to life, and to have the opportunity to work with such amazing students and help them discover their own Walden experience.

– Andy Webster, Lead Teacher

Our Staff

ANDY WEBSTER, LEAD TEACHER

andy-webster

Andy is a New York State Certified Earth Science Teacher with a decade of experience as a public school science teacher. He also has a B. A. in Conservation Ecology from Sterling College in Vermont and a M. Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction from The Union Institute & University in Vermont.

Andy has led nature-based outdoor education programs for his entire adult life, most recently teaching at the Cumming Nature Center’s Forest School program. Outside of teaching, Andy and his partner, Maggie, have four children and a small organic farm.

Fox Gardner, Service Learning Coordinator

image

Fox is a naturalist, educator, and amateur folklorist from the Finger Lakes region. They fostered a deep connection with nature early in life, and decided to pursue conservation at SUNY Cortland. In the past decade they have held numerous conservation and nature education positions in the region. With a background in Traditional Ecological Knowledge, they hope to inspire the same respect and awe for the natural world that they were raised with.

In their spare time, Fox competes in Highland Games, does woodworking, and is a volunteer firefighter. They also have a podcast called ‘Follow Fox’ that delves into a single aspect of the natural world each episode.

Media Highlights

npr

The Walden Project – Vermont was featured as one of NPR’s top innovative schools.

edutopia

The George Lucas Foundation’s Edutopia wrote a great article about The Walden Project – Vermont.

274464806_919366698737058_5932559859901708654_n

An article in The Thoreau Society Bulletin about The Walden Project – NY: The Day We Didn’t Read Thoreau.

flx1-podcast

Watch teachers, Andy and Janean, discuss The Walden Project – NY on the FLX1 Podcast.


Walden Inquiry Form

Do you have more questions? Would you like to talk with a staff member about this program? Fill out the form below and we will be touch. We’d love to hear from you!

"*" indicates required fields

Name*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.