At Rochester Ecology Partners, we are committed to fostering connections and nurturing understanding among diverse communities. One of our programs, Our Worlds Connect, brings together high school students from different backgrounds for immersive, environmentally focused community-building experiences.

Recently, we embarked on the first leg of this transformative journey with juniors from two distinct educational institutions: East High School’s Teaching and Learning Institute (TLI) and The Walden Project at the RMSC Cumming Nature Center. TLI prepares future educators and leaders from within the community, aiming to diversify the teaching profession and empower students for success in college and beyond. Meanwhile, The Walden School offers a unique educational experience at Cumming Nature Center, emphasizing academic independence and outdoor learning.

The day was the first in a series of four unique experiences for the group, and it began with a focus on community building, guided by a series of engaging activities designed to encourage collaboration and connection.

As we introduced our Nature Names and played games, laughter and camaraderie filled the air as barriers dissolved, and bonds began to form.

“I feel so alive and happy right now…”
– TLI student

One of the highlights of the day was the Common Plate preparation, with ingredients generously supported by Wegmans Supermarket. Split into groups and empowered to make decisions about the recipe and cooking methods, students made grilled vegetable foil packets, hot dogs, chili, grilled cheese, salad, and fruit salad.

Students from both schools worked side by side, discovering common ground while chopping, stirring, and sharing stories. This culinary collaboration served as a powerful metaphor for unity and cooperation.

Following the meal, we ventured into the tranquil surroundings of Cobbs Hill, where the majestic Washington Grove old-growth forest awaited us. Many of the students hadn’t been up to see the scenic water towers at the top of Cobbs Hill, and the scene surely provoked curiosity. Amidst nature’s embrace, students embarked on a reflective hike, pondering the interconnectedness of all living beings and the role of the environment in shaping perspectives.

Throughout the day, we were grounded with guiding questions that sparked meaningful conversations:

– How does a shared experience create relationships?

– How do relationships create a bridge?

– How does our environment shape our perspective?

As the day drew to a close, we gathered once more for a closing circle, where students shared their insights and aspirations. It became clear that the objectives of Our Worlds Connect were being realized:

– Bringing students from different communities together for shared experiences

– Encouraging dialogue that fosters understanding of diverse perspectives

– Building relationships that empower individuals and communities

This group will have three more gatherings – they’ll visit each other’s schools and end the series of gatherings with a canoeing trip! We can’t wait to watch their relationships blossom even more. Join us as we continue to bridge communities and cultivate understanding through Our Worlds Connect, where every experience is an opportunity to build a more just, sustainable, and peaceful Rochester region—one relationship at a time.

This series of Our Worlds Connect is made possible by AES Corporation, whose crucial funding has enabled us to continue our mission of community building and empowerment. Additionally, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to Wegmans Supermarket for their generous donation of ingredients for our shared meal.