Jessie Aniloff earns Gold Award bringing nature to preschoolers

by June Portnoy

Jessie Aniloff, a Girl Scout for 11 years, has combined her passion for nature and her fond memories of preschool to earn her Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can attain. 

Since last year, Jessie, a Langhorne resident and a 10th grader at Villa Joseph Marie High School in Holland, spent over 90 hours renovating and upgrading the nature trail at Crossing Cooperative Nursery School (CCNS) in Washington Crossing.

During the official unveiling and ribbon cutting ceremony of the nature trail last month at CCNS, Jessie, a Girl Scout in Troop 297 in the Oxford Valley Service Unit, explained that she had graduated from this preschool in 2007. “When I was thinking about what I wanted to do for my Gold Award, I immediately thought of CCNS because that’s where I learned to play, discover and have fun. Those are the things I wish upon the kids at CCNS with the use of this new trail.”

Before cutting the ribbon held by preschoolers standing in front of the nature trail entrance, Jessie announced, “Now go explore and have fun.”

And that’s exactly what they did as they picked up the walking sticks Jessie had strategically placed at the front of the trail before they embarked on their adventure through the new trail.

“I wanted these children to be able to walk through this trail and have fun while learning at the same time,” said Jessie as she led the way through the trail, describing how she had transformed it.

Her first challenge had been clearing the path of this 10-year-old worn down trail.

Jessie, along with a team of family members and several Girl Scouts in her troop, spent many hours removing debris blocking a portion of the trail, along with mulching it and eliminating some big dangerous sticks.

She described how the original trail was simply a “plain trail with very little in it other than a few benches for a reading circle. There was really nothing in this trail to engage kids.”

Jessie and her team of helpers used bright colors to paint numbers and shapes on rocks and then placed the rocks throughout the trail. CCNS teachers can now bring their students to the trail to help them teach numbers, shapes and colors.

As students routinely run through the trail on their own, their teachers’ lessons will be reinforced each time they see the rocks. In order to help students identify animals, Jessie and her team created a sign with pictures of various animals on it.

She then placed pictures of each one of the animals on a separate sign within the trail. “I set this up like a scavenger hunt where preschoolers can run around trying to find each animal displayed on the first sign in the trail,” said Jessie.

At the end of the trail where the reading circle benches are still located, Jessie added a fairy garden. She placed tiny figures in this area so it appears that fairies live there. “The goal of this area is for children to use their imagination and play pretend games,” explained Jessie.

In addition, Jessie donated books for the reading circle. A highlight of the nature trail is all the distinctly painted rocks placed along its entrance.

During Jessie’s spring break from school, she visited CCNS to read students a book entitled “Only One You” by Linda Kranz. “The book tells how being yourself makes the world a better place,” recounted Jessie. “I asked each student to paint a rock that was unique to them, showing how they can make the world a better place. So each rock is a representation of the child who painted it.”

During CCNS’ annual Snores & S’mores Family Festival, at which time the nature trail unveiling took place, children enjoyed searching and finding the special rock that they had created.

Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, Jessie watched as children eagerly ran through the new trail discovering all it had to offer.

“Now that I see kids using this nature trail, I feel accomplished,” said Jessie. “It’s gratifying that after devoting so many hours to this project, I can watch these preschoolers using the trail the way I envisioned they would.”

PHOTO CAP: Jessie sitting in the Fairy Garden at the nature trail at CCNS.