West Simsbury native Isaac Rosenthal received an honor from an organization that he said shaped his life.
The Children's Museum, of West Hartford, and the Roaring Brook Nature Center, of Canton, presented Rosenthal with the organization's rising star award at the annual Visions event.
Rosenthal, 25, remembers first going to the Roaring Brook Nature Center when he was four years old. Since then, the nature center has always been part of his life.
"It's very humbling that a place that had so much of an impact on me could think I had an impact back on it in a meaningful way," Rosenthal said. "It's a great feeling."
Rosenthal, who now lives in Boston and is enrolled in a master's program for marine biology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said as a young boy, he took class after class at the nature center, sometimes taking the same course multiple times, because of how much he loved being there.
"I really enjoyed the people there," Rosenthal said. "I took most of the classes because I liked the teachers and wanted to spend more time with them. I would sign up for all of the classes, every year, and take them even if I was too old for them."
When he turned 10 years old, he became a volunteer. When he turned 16 years old, he became a paid member of the summer staff and began teaching the classes he took as a child.
"What was so cool about that for me was that I was finally able to teach the same classes I remember taking when I was younger," Rosenthal said. "It was the same classrooms. It was really cool as a high schooler to build off that experience and give back."
In the summer of 2015, the Simsbury High School graduate was named a head teacher at the nature center. He still teaches classes at the nature center from time to time. It's that experience, and the ones prior to it, that have him wanting to become a teacher at some level after graduate school.
Rosenthal said the Roaring Brook Nature Center, and the Children's Museum, are great opportunities for children to learn things they might not get a chance to otherwise.
"It gives kids that would not otherwise have a chance to experience and learn about the environment," Rosenthal said. "We'd have a school group go in and they'd say that's the first time I'd ever seen a frog. They are eight or 10 years old. It's really rewarding to me when I can show them that and see their eyes light up with something they've never seen before."
Rosenthal said that at the same time, the nature center gives kids like him an opportunity to express their love for the environment.
"If you don't have other people who share the interest around you, it can be hard to keep up with it," Rosenthal said, recalling a time he and others at the nature center became interested in dragonflies. "Where else could you do that? Where else could you find out that you enjoyed that?"
Rosenthal is currently studying ecosystems in his graduate program. Specifically, he's looking at kelp forests and how coastal development and construction can affect their size and health.
When he's done with school, he knows he wants to teach, but he isn't sure if that will be with young kids or at a university level. Either way, he's positive that it's his passion.
"When you see a kid learn and take something you taught them you know you really affected the way they're looking at the world and that's a beautiful thing," Rosenthal said. "Being able to think critically about issues and the environment is really important. Teaching kids to look at how the world works will let them make their own decisions."