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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
  • Professional CPR and Wilderness First Aid certifications
  • Living accommodations may be available
  • Paid Summer Apprenticeships available!


  • 18 years of age or older
  • Summer: minimum commitment of 7 consecutive weeks
  • School Year: minimum commitment of one trimester (10-13 weeks, Fall/Winter/Spring)
  • Pass all required background checks
  • Commitment to program agreements and training days

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 skills in chosen areas of curriculum
  • Learn the 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
  • Participate as a collaborative member of the instructor team
  • Bring passion and enthusiasm to every day
  • Hold an intention for clear communication, both receiving and offering
  • Help with material prep, clean-up and documentation of program goals, activities and successes
  • Observe and learn, offer and inspire
  • Be an "edge watcher" observing and responding to the big picture of what is unfolding, finding campers who are on the fringes and supporting them to engage
  • Model excellent participant behavior

If you have questions or would like to speak with someone from our team before applying to be an apprentice, please call the office at 607-272-2292 ext 261.


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.

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