Wilderness Instructor Apprenticeship & Forest Preschool Apprenticeship Programs

Experience all that goes into running our youth nature immersion programs while gaining competence in teaching outdoor skills.

Learn through experience and mentoring as an Apprentice, working side–by-side with seasoned Lead Instructors at our renowned Youth Programs!

Apprentices contribute to programming through role modeling, supporting staff, and helping to craft a safe, positive learning culture where youth participants connect with themselves, their community, and the natural world. As an apprenticeship, you’ll learn how to facilitate this growth and transformation through our curriculum and practices.

Apprenticeships include:

  • Weekly guidance from senior instructional staff and opportunities for guided self-study
  • Discount rate on adult workshops
  • Certificate of completion of the Wilderness Instructor Apprenticeship, or Forest Preschool Apprenticeship (if working with Growing Wild programs)
  • Professional CPR and Wilderness First Aid certifications
  • Travel and food stipends, as well as living accommodations may be available


  • 18 years of age or older
  • Minimum school year commitment of one trimester (10-13 weeks, Fall/Winter/Spring)
  • Minimum summer commitment (7 weeks)
  • Vehicle/transportation to get to program location(s)
  • Pass all required background checks
  • Commitment to program agreements and training days
  • $300 refundable deposit if participating in the Nature Mentor Certificate program

Opportunities for growth

  • Spend the season in the outdoors, living and learning in connection to nature
  • Deepen teaching skills in working with youth
  • Acquire and test skill in chosen areas of curriculum
  • Learn logistics of holding and running a program for youth
  • Explore dynamics of community, and facilitate community growth with cultural mentoring practices
  • Opportunity to gain professional references for future employment

Apprentice Expectations

  • Attend all planning, training and class sessions as per agreement
  • Help with material prep, clean-up and documentation of program goals, activities and successes
  • Bring passion and enthusiasm to every day, as well as intention for clear communication

If you are interested in applying to be an apprentice, please call the office at 607-272-2292 ext 195 and we will plan a time to meet with you in person.

Curriculum Topics:

  • Leading engaging outdoor games, wood crafts, and nature activities
  • Storytelling and Song-Leading
  • Activity sequencing and program planning
  • Using archetypal knowledge as a teaching tool
  • Community-building as part of the educational process
  • Conflict resolution
  • Child development and age appropriate activities
  • Risk management and hazards
  • Successfully working as part of a teaching team

Apprenticeship Program Staff

Instructional Team:

The apprenticeship allows a group of instructors with complementary skills and experience to share various aspects of both instruction and behind-the-scenes program development & administration.

Sarah Birnbaum

Program Director

Sean Cornell

Guest Instructor

Sean traces his love of the outdoors to a series of moments in his childhood starting with a day when he and his friends spotted a pair of hawks circling above a hill in the southern end of Syracuse. They marveled at the hawk’s ability to keep afloat without once flapping their wings. He and his friends tracked the hawks movement for hours, so engrossed in their flight patterns they didn’t want to miss a movement.

Family outings identifying wild ramps and leeks encouraged Sean to critically notice the abundance of his natural surroundings, and made him eager to broaden his knowledge of plant identification. Sean attended the Tracker School at 18, followed by a Bachelor's of Science in conservation biology at The College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. With this background of interests, Sean pursued his fascination with outdoor education, and primitive skills through books and videos, teaching himself bow carving, and tracking.

Sean’s number one interest is archery and bow-making. Sean finds that the process of bow-making allows students to connect more deeply and fully to the materials and their surrounding environment.

“If you struggle with a skill for a while, you invest a lot of emotion...and at some point you start to love the materials for their own sake.”

He deeply believes that the process and practice of creating your own tools; choosing, carving, and shaping the wood creates a deep love for the tree, and the environment that nurtured the tree. Each object created by an individual, with materials they harvested, and hours of their own time spent crafting, are an personal interpretation of themselves and the natural materials they are using.

Sean has been an instructor at Primitive Pursuits for a number of years. During academic terms he is a regular with our homeschool, preschool, and adult programs. During summer camps he can generally be found at our specialty camps, guiding a knife over wood during Bow-making, or helping students learn proper form in Forest Archer.

Sean lives in Ithaca with his wife and daughter and continues to share his love of carving and wilderness education with everyone around him.

Danielle Prizzi

Field Staff

Danielle Prizzi is a plant loving enthusiast, who spends much of her time studying and practicing herbal medicine, wild foraging, and farming. She lives in constant wonder, gratitude and presence with the natural world. Formally, she graduated from Ithaca College with her education being focused on integrating alternative medicine and healing, sustainable living, and plant studies to begin to understand the human-nature innate connection. Since college, she's spent her time apprenticing with herbalists, primitive skills enthusiasts, naturalists, and healers -- specifically Tammi Sweet and Kris Miller at Heartstone Herbalism school, Rosemary Gladstar, and Aviva Romm. When she isn’t out in the woods, she nestles in the deep woods of Connecticut Hill working to establish an off-the-grid homestead and a medicinal herb farm.

Justin Sutera

Guest Instructor

Justin has spent the last 9 years of his life passionately dedicated to primitive living skills and naturalist studies. It all started for him when he read The Tracker after an inspirational backpacking trip, and the day he got home picked up a roadkill deer. He spent months tanning that first hide, insisting on figuring out a better way, and failing over and over. Hide tanning led to bow making, bow making led to flintknapping, and ultimately all manner of survival and primitive living skills.

While studying Conservation Biology at S.U.N.Y College of Environmental Science and Forestry Justin started a club teaching primitive skills and got connected with the staff at Primitive Pursuits for the first time.

After college Justin studied at Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School, and was an instructor at The Children of the Earth Foundation for three years before joining Primitive Pursuits in 2012.

Wherever Justin goes he enjoys inspiring and teaching those around him. His determination and passion for primitive skills have led him towards a deep understanding and opened up doors to fantastic mentors along the way. A strong foundation in the physical skills helped lead him towards an in-depth journey into tracking and bird language.

Justin will tell you he is just a beginner at all of these skills, but that’s because he’s been following this journey towards awareness long enough to know what he doesn’t know. Constantly humbled by lessons learned from survival experiences, hunting, and time in nature, nothing excites him more than inspiring people and guiding them along this path.

Watch a short video of Justin telling how he got here:

Jenn Feingold

Field Staff

Jenn's first love was nature, and spent her childhood in the nooks of forests and wetlands in nearby Connecticut- befriending all the creatures she came into contact with. After completing three years of college in biology and elementary education, she realized her dream of teaching children immersed in nature. After completing our WSI, becomming our summer intern for 2015 and finishing a year as the Americorp member volunteer with the IFP, she now joins the year round staff working with kids aged 3 to 16. In spare time she pursues other passions in earthly skills like herbalism, bee-keeping, yoga and farm or forest to table cooking. Jenn is also passionate about creating a model for holistic education and sustainable living, which she gets closer to everyday.

Jenn is an instructor for the Ithaca Forest Preschool, Homeschool and afterschool programs.

Melissa Blake

Lead Instructor, Forest Preschool

If someone had told Melissa when she was a teen that she would get to make a living as a camp counselor, she wouldn’t have believed it. But that’s what she has gotten to do for the past 20+ years. She has taught children outdoors in California, Wyoming, Maryland, and New York and led teens and adults on wilderness expeditions all over western North America. She completed a graduate program in Environmental Education at the Teton Science Schools in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and a two-year mentorship with master tracker Jon Young. In 2006 she founded a program called Growing Wild Nature Mentoring in the Catskills, and in 2013 co-founded Ithaca Forest Preschool as a program of Primitive Pursuits. She loves spending time with preschoolers in their natural habitat--nature--and watching the growth of their imaginations, curiosity, and empathy for living things. She agrees with David Sobel that we should "give children a chance to love the earth before we ask them to save it.

Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

Is food provided?

No. Please supply yourself/your child with plenty of healthy snacks, lunch, and water each day. These are active children, and they get HUNGRY! Protein, fat, and fiber are especially important for providing long-burning energy.

Is there public transportation or carpooling available?

For programs at 4-H Acres: it is an on-demand TCAT stop, and there is a bus that can arrive right around 9am. We do not arrange carpooling, but you are welcome to discuss this at drop off or pickup with other participants/parents who may be interested.

Registration Details

What scholarships are available?

Scholarship Information

At Primitive Pursuits we are committed to making our programs available to as many people as possible. To this end, we generate scholarships via our sliding-scale fee on a program-to-program basis. Any contributions made over the minimum of the sliding scale for all our programs are tax-deductible donations to our scholarship fund. Thus, scholarships are limited to the sum of these funds and are awarded based on equitable distribution.

We review donations the first week of each month, and make decisions regarding scholarship awards soon thereafter.

Recipients will be notified by email and given a timeframe within which to accept or decline the amount awarded and complete payment of the balance.

Additional Outside Sources for Scholarships:

Although we do our best to make sure that everyone can attend our programs, please also consider applying right away to the following supplemental financial assistance programs, to allow them time for processing your application:

  • Ithaca Youth Bureau ECHO Scholarship - This scholarship is through the Ithaca Youth Bureau and intended for youth in Tompkins County, at any time of year.
  • The Town of Danby offers grants to youth up to age 21 for camps and afterschool programs. Info & application: or on the Town Hall bulletin board.
  • If you live outside of the Towns of Ithaca and Danby, inquire at your local town hall for possibilities of youth scholarships. Please let us know of any resources you find!

What to Know About Our Scholarships Before Applying:

  • The maximum scholarship we can supply for any program is outlined below by program type.
  • Larger scholarships are considered under extenuating circumstances, and on a case by case basis.
  • Scholarship applications must be submitted a minimum of 30 days before the program start date to ensure consideration. You may apply closer to the start date, but we cannot guarantee a response before the program begins.

Maximum Scholarship Amounts by Program:

  • After School, Homeschool and School Break programs: 50% of program cost up to $100.
  • Growing Wild Summer Camp: $50 per week for a maximum of 2 weeks of camp per child.
  • Summer Day Camp: $100 per week for a maximum of 2 weeks of camp per child.
  • Overnight Camp: $225 per week of overnight camp for a maximum of 2 weeks of camp.
  • Forest Preschool Trimester: $100 in scholarship for the first day/week, then $50 for each additional day/week (e.g., If you are registered for Mondays & Wednesdays, the maximum amount in scholarship would be $150)
  • Adult Workshops: 50% of program cost up to $100.
  • Wilderness Skills/Nature Mentoring: up to $300
  • Wilderness Year: up to $1000

How to Apply:

  • Create an Online Account Portal using a computer and Firefox or Chrome (not Safari or Explorer, not on a tablet or smartphone)
  • Sign up for your selected program(s) and pay a deposit (EXCEPT summer camps after May 1, email to arrange deposit payment thru Registrar).
  • Complete a separate scholarship application for EACH participant and EACH program. Epic Days are not eligible for scholarship funds.
  • (eg. Robin Bird for Base Camp starting 7/1/18, requesting $50; Jay Bird for Growing Wild Camp starting 7/1/18, requesting $25).
  • If you are applying for a scholarship for more than the maximum amount listed above, please email our office at with information about your circumstances.
What is your cancellation and refund policy?
Different programs have different program-specific policies.
Please see our Payment Policies page for more information.
  • In order for any program change or refund request to be considered, it must be made in writing through the registrar, even if you have discussed this with another staff person, such as a field educator.
  • The effective date of all refund requests is the DATE OF THE EMAIL notifying the Registrar of your request.
  • Changes and refunds are NOT guaranteed and only the Registrar can process these changes.
  • Epic Days and donations (amount paid above the base rate) are nonrefundable.
  • All deposits (even "non-refundable deposits") will be returned if you are unable to participate in a program for lack of a scholarship request being approved.

Please email with your full name, phone number, the participant's name, the full program name(s), and the program start date(s).
No phone calls, please.

Need a trail guide?

We’re happy to help you navigate. Give us a call at the office (607) 272-2292 ext. 195 or use the link below

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