Staff news: Program Director Erica Max prepares to depart, leaving an important and lasting impact

As the first employee hired by the trustees of Mary M. B. Wakefield Charitable Trust in 2007, Erica Max saw the potential and promise of a landscape whose golden days were decades in the making but in serious decline. Erica was hired to document the landscape that Mary “Polly” Wakefield created during her lifetime, but had been neglected for years as Polly aged and finally died in 2004. In order to set a direction about how to manage the diverse landscape, Erica set out to try to understand and distinguish between what was Polly’s design intent, and what had just grown up because of neglect. During the first months on-site, with input from the trustees, Erica realized the potential of this incredible garden for education and learning. Within weeks she was reaching out to science educators in the Milton schools about bringing school-age students to the site for environmental learning, and launched a pilot science-based after-school program to test her ideas. From that moment, there was no looking back.
For the next 14 years, Erica thoughtfully crafted the arboretum’s education program, which centered on bringing two thousand young learners (grades K - 5) each year from Boston schools to the arboretum to experience a day of outdoor science and environmental education. Erica worked closely with educators to tailor the outdoor curricula to complement and support what the students were learning in the classroom. She used every aspect and asset of the landscape to connect children to the natural environment: searching for crayfish in the pond, exploring the woodlands for salamanders and decomposers, and strolling through the formal gardens to observe unique plants and flowers.

Weeks later, whole classrooms of children would mail Erica thank you cards, almost always with a drawing of their favorite part of their day: time with the animals, finding tadpoles, walking among the buttercups, or visiting with chickens, llamas and sheep just to name a few. From Erica’s work with the children, and consistent with Polly’s wishes, the arboretum’s identity has become “a learning landscape for all.”

Erica has also played a critical role in coordinating many of our programs, maintaining our website and social media, contributing to our quarterly, corresponding with members and volunteers, and as a genuine ambassador, making visitors of all ages feel welcome during their visits.

Erica will be missed by her colleagues, students, friends, and professionals that have worked with her here at the arboretum. She will be moving to upstate New York at the end of October to begin a new life with her newly-retired husband Ron, and also to be close to her dear mother, Melva. She has left a large imprint on this unique place and on the lives of literally thousands of children - and adults - who have spent time with her here over these many years. She will be missed by all!

P.S. We hope you will reach out to us and share your memories and impressions about your experiences with Erica. We will be planning a farewell celebration in September and hope to compile some of these anecdotes and well-wishes.

EM E2 picnic 

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