A few weeks ago when the new academic year for Boston Public Schools was just starting, Rene Reyes, a history teacher from the New Mission High School in Hyde Park, reached out to the Arnold Arboretum with a request. How could their entering freshman class visit and engage with a beautiful landscape, and work towards building community there?

After some conversation, a plan was hatched:  students would work in small groups with their advisors to navigate the Arboretum with maps, searching for at least three distinct areas to spend their time.  Students were to consider each landscape and use photography as a way to capture a moment of beauty, inspiration, or interest. The final step was to climb to the top of Peters Hill, where all the students would gather for a picnic lunch and share their experiences.

What follows are musings and photos by six students as they reflect on their experiences and learning process while at the Arboretum.

As the Children’s Education Fellow, I enjoy finding new ways to share the Arnold Arboretum with all students.  At times, finding a way “in” to the lives of urban teens means giving them choices and freedom to make decisions in a beautiful, safe landscape. The freshman students from New Mission High School are well on their way to fulfilling their school’s mission, which states in part “New Mission High School empowers all students to become self-directed, lifelong learners who do well in the world and do well for the world.  In our inclusive, portfolio-based school, our students develop their passion, commitment to learning, habits of mind, and essential skills.” We are happy to have been a part of this new beginning.