Family Camp session at Watershed Institute provides environmental outreach

The Pelaez brothers at Wargo Pond

Klaython Pelaez is on the hunt – intent on catching a grasshopper in his cupped hand as he runs through the thick grass near Wargo Pond on the watershed reserve.

Fizzing with anticipation, he shrieks as a grasshopper jumps just out of his reach.

“I always tell the kids the animals are hiding,” said Zoltan Molnar, a chaperone from Christina Seix Academy (CSA) on a Family Camp session at The Watershed Institute in Pennington.

Klaython, his brother Jezrael, and sister Haylen are some of dozens of students who attended the institute’s summer camp from the Trenton-based academy, a vibrant pre-K-eighth grade school for advanced students in underserved communities. 

The schoolchildren, accompanied by relatives or driven on the school bus by Molnar, joined other families from the region who attended Family Camp.

The institute, eager to sustain its outreach efforts in Trenton despite COVID-19, reached out to the school.

“We thought this would be a great way to retain and elevate our presence in Trenton because of the pandemic. All the traditional ways vanished and the world went on hold in March, so how could we get students here?” said Education Director Jeff Hoagland. “CSA has its own buses and the students could come in pre-existing small groups.”   

Family Camp’s range of opportunities and different time slots gave families the flexibility to select what was best for their schedules.

Head of School Rob Connor, who became a trustee of the Watershed Institute in April, was equally as eager to find some outdoor activities to supplement CSA’s summer school.

“This COVID challenge has been extremely complicated for a lot of our families; not only are they balancing work-related challenges as many are essential workers, (but) they are also carrying forward the aspirations for their children,” Connor said. “The children don’t have the opportunity to play outside because of certain constraints in their communities. At the Watershed, they get to play in the world, as scientists and explore in a hands-on way.”

On a recent outing, Deepanshu Mukheja, 10, dipped a test tube into the Stony Brook to get some sample water for a pH balance test. He and his mother, Gunjan, attended several sessions and enjoyed tie-dying t-shirts.

“This was my golden chance to attend this camp and spend some time with him,” said Gunjan, who worked 60 hours a week before the pandemic curtailed her hours.

“We stayed for the campout and this is the first time we’ve roasted marshmallows over a fire,” she said.

Connor said many of the school’s families were grateful to have a chance to be outside together, especially after being cooped up inside for too long.

“They talk about the cooperative learning environment,” he said. “We all have an interest in the environment and to be able go along and learn with one’s sons and daughters is absolutely amazing.”

The success of the summer’s Family Camp has inspired the institute to create additional fall programing. For more information, visit


The Watershed Institute is dedicated to keeping Central New Jersey’s water clean, safe and healthy. Founded in 1949, The Watershed Institute protects and restores water and the environment through conservation, advocacy, science and education. For more information about the Watershed, visit or call 609-737-3735.

  • This article was submitted by The Watershed Institute.
Deepanshu Mukheja, left, with his mother Gunjan
Deepanshu Mukheja
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