What happens when two friends who are veteran educators decide at the same time that it’s time to leave the classroom and spend more time in nature?
Bebe Cifaldi, a teacher for 26 years, most recently at Hilton Head Elementary School for the Creative Arts, said she decided in April to retire at the end of the school year. “Life is too short,” she said of her decision to try out a new venture.
She told her friend Karen Penale, a teacher for 25 years, most recently at Cross Schools in Bluffton, about her decision, and within a couple of days, Penale too decided to leave the classroom.
The two have created WonderFun Learning Outdoor Education, which will offer summer nature camps, field trips for students in all schools – including homeschools – south of the Broad, and adult education programs about all things nature.
“Within two weeks, we had our name, our LLC, a workspace in a building next to a land trust property, and plans for the first summer camps,” Cifaldi said.
The two Master Naturalists and kayak guides said they want to bring back the “wonder and curiosity” to children’s lives.
“It amazes me how many of my students have never been to the beach, or to Honey Horn, or paid attention to a salt marsh,” Cifaldi said.
The women have plans for nature walks, bird watching, native plant identification, kayak tours, loggerhead turtle talks and more.
“We want to do some citizen scientist programs with them, such as Seeds to Shoreline with spartina grass,” Penale said. “And once the kids see it and get it, they take it home to their parents and the whole family embraces this love of nature.”
They plan to work with regional naturalists, such as Tony Mills at Spring Island and Coastal Discovery Museum’s naturalist Carlos Chacon, as well as the Turtle Patrol local Audubon Club.
The WonderFun programs are modeled after the South Carolina Master Naturalist program through Clemson University, a 12-week training, plus volunteer service for anyone who wants to learn more about protecting, conserving and promoting awareness of the state’s natural resources.
“The Master Naturalist program changed my life,” Penale said.
“Mine too,” said Cifaldi.
Summer camps, with a limit of 16 students each, begin in July and continue through August, and are held Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The first camp is July 18-22, for rising fourth through sixth grades, with another camp for that age group Aug. 1-5.
July 25-29 will be for rising seventh and eighth grades, and Aug. 8-12 is for rising first and second grades.
All camps are first come, first served. Cost is $200 per camper, with some scholarships available. For more information, call 843-310-4899 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.