Member Spotlight On: Rosanne Mistretta

Member Spotlight On: Rosanne Mistretta

As the Director of the Center for Experiential Learning at an Independent School in Philadelphia, Rosanne shares how she developed the program over the last three years. 



About Rosanne:

Rosanne Mistretta received a B.A. in Psychology from Dickinson College and went on to pursue her M.A. in Environmental Education at Arcadia University and a J.D. from the University of New Hampshire School of Law. Rosanne began her career in law, working at the United States Environmental Protection Agency Region III as a Senior Assistant Regional Counsel from 1986-1997. In 1998, Rosanne decided to change her career path and helped develop and teach an environmental studies program at Riverbend Environmental Education Center/Gladwyne Montessori School. She then took her passion for environmental education to Abington Friends School where she still works today.
Rosanne developed her passion for teaching at AFS as the Lower School Science/STEAM teacher from 2000-2016. While teaching at AFS, Rosanne designed and taught a comprehensive science/environmental curriculum for students in grades PreK through 5th grade.  She also developed meaningful partnerships with many community organizations within Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. From 2011-2016, Rosanne created and directed an impactful PreK-12 outdoor/environmental-learning program entitled AFS Outside (AFS Outdoor Scholarship, Initiative, Discovery and Exploration). She also established the 1st secondary school campus ARBNET accredited arboretum in the USA.
In 2016, Rosanne transitioned into her current role at Abington Friends as the Director of the Center for Experiential Learning. In her role, Rosanne has designed and implemented a robust program that connects students to outside and community-based experiences such as internships, cohort programs, and service learning projects. She has also created an impressive Global Travel program for Upper School students. Rosanne has received many awards and recognitions throughout her career for her work in environmental education. In addition to her work above, Rosanne has served on the US EPA National Environmental Education Advisory Council as well as boards for other regional education centers.


 An Interview With Rosanne Mistretta

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

"I started out loving the outdoors/camping/backpacking/canoeing through Girl Scouting.  We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and girl scout camp was practically free. I spent every summer in the forests of North Central PA.  Later, I branched out to organizing backpacking and canoe trips during college and then spent some time at Minnesota Outward Bound School. Law school was the next step for me, and my future husband and I started the Environmental Law Society while we were there.  We were lucky enough to both get jobs at EPA Region III and that’s how we ended up in Philadelphia. After 10 terrific years at EPA, I decided to go back to school for a master’s in environmental education. I ended up at a Quaker School outside of Philly, teaching hands-on science and introducing kids to the outdoors.  I started a program at our school called AFS Outside to do just that with all students from Prek-12th grade. When they started the Center for Experiential Learning at our school, I was appointed to the director role and have been doing that for the last few years." 

What is your favorite memory from your many outdoor adventures?

"I would have to say that one of my favorite memories was when I was on Ecology Project International’s Teacher Fellowship program in Baja, Mexico.  We were doing research and part of it involved swimming with whale sharks. I was completely outside of my comfort zone, not being that familiar with snorkeling. When the whale shark approached we had to jump off the boat and swim really fast to stay near it.  It was exhilarating, terrifying and magical all at the same time. Conversly, my other favorite memory was just sleeping every summer in a tent at my Girl Scout camp, listening to the spring peepers and the whippoorwills."


How did your passion for the outdoors and learning through experience influence your career path?

"Well, my passion for the environment led to my first career in environmental law, working for the EPA.  When I switched careers, I wanted to do something in education, and completed a master’s in environmental education.  I knew how much learning about the outdoors and spending time in nature helped me as a young person, and I wanted to bring that to other young people.  Being an elementary school science teacher was a perfect way to get kids outside everyday on our campus and do tons of hands-on science in the classroom."

As an experiential educator, what would you say are the core benefits of experiential learning?

"I would say that a core benefit is that students learn to connect classroom learning to real life.  They can see the application of their work to the wider world. I think that happens because of the immersion in an experience and ownership over what they are learning, and then the ability to reflect on that learning and expand their thinking to other situations.  Students become critical thinkers as opposed to just learning facts and figures."

Can you tell us a bit about some of your current and/or favorite programs/projects?

"I love our Med Ex (medical) and Biz Ex (entrepreneurship) programs that give our students contact with professionals in the field.  We get to do hands-on learning like surgery simulations and developing prototypes alongside terrific mentors. Our AFS Explore program connects individual students with programs, internships, and jobs in the community.  It’s a great way for students to get real life experience. Of course, I love our global travel program which has taken our students in the past two years to Yellowstone, Hurricane Island (Maine), Costa Rica and France. One of my favorite personal experiences was to build my own skin-on-frame canoe under the direction of Hillary Russell in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Experiential learning at its very best!"


Do you have any tips for educators who would like to incorporate EE in their curriculums?

"Definitely build in time for reflecting on activities. I think it’s often the most overlooked step in the experiential learning process, but it’s the most important. Also, experiential learning should be at the core of a program, not an add-on.  It’s good to rebuild a curriculum as opposed to trying to retrofit experiential learning into something already existing. I would love tips from others, as well! I am definitely still learning a lot."

What are some challenges you have faced in your journey as an EE Educator?

"Time! Working experiential education into a high school curriculum requires creative thinking about time.  It’s hard to fit experiential programming into a high school schedule limited to 1 hour blocks. You have to get creative about free periods, special days devoted to outside programming, evening and weekend programming.  There are many competing things in the life of a high school student and you have to be able to adapt to the life and rythm of the overall school program."

When and why did you become an AEE member?

"I think it’s beneficial to collaborate and connect about issues/challenges/successes.  It saves time and trial and error. I have to say, I have learned so much from other experiential education colleagues.  They can be hard to find nearby, so it’s nice to have a built in group across the country that you can collaborate with."

Want to become an AEE Member? Learn more here!

Will you be attending the AORE-AEE Conference this year? What are you most excited about?

"Yes!  Looking forward to it. Believe it or not, I have not attended an AEE conference before so this will be my first one.  I am looking forward to making connections and hearing about great programs out there."  

Learn more and register for the 2019 Conference here!


 Interested in being featured in a future AEE blog post? Have a story to tell? Contact Anna Miano!
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