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Displaying items by tag: Neighborhood Environmental Education Project
Thursday, 30 April 2015 00:00

A Hawk, a Chipmunk and So Much More

“Look! Up there, high in the tree, perched on that branch,” an environmental educator directed his class of students to where a Cooper’s Hawk sat in a tree in Riverside Park.

Just moments before they spotted the hawk, a chipmunk had darted across the path in front of them. Out hunting for signs of spring, the class was thrilled at the sighting because chipmunks are hibernators and only awaken from their deep slumber when the weather warms just enough – a true sign of spring!

Friday, 06 March 2015 00:00

Not Just A Rock

The morning sunlight shimmered on the rippling surface of the river. It was a beautiful day in late fall as second graders hiked along the Menomonee Valley trails. The excitement of the kids grew as the trail got more and more covered by the trees. I realized that the border between them and the natural world had started to break down when I heard a few “wows” for a Blue Heron that flew by and a salmon going up the river to spawn. You could sense the connection one student had as she held an improvised walking stick.

Monday, 17 November 2014 00:00

The Greatest Gift

Hi, it’s me, Ken! I’m thinking about what to give to the special people in my life during this giving season. Should I give them an Urban Ecology Center gift membership? A Center t-shirt? Or maybe a day outdoors in the snow? Hmm, perhaps I should ask around. "What does the fox say?"

Monday, 03 November 2014 00:00

From Fear to Understanding

I love fall! We begin a new school year with excited students, perfect sunny days and beautiful changing leaves. Fall is also when I get to teach a class that brings kids into the water to look for macroinvertebrates. It’s one of my favorite classes to teach.

The program begins with the students tucking in their shirts and climbing into waders to explore the Milwaukee River. We hand them kick nets and bins to hold the benthic invertebrates they find. As we head to the river, there is nervous excitement. It is fun to watch the first groups get their bearings in the water.

Saturday, 28 June 2014 00:00

A School Year of Firsts

“Miss Katie, I love nature!” “Nature is the best!” I absolutely love hearing these exclamations as students dance on Washington Park’s Band Shell, climb fallen trees or dip nets into the lagoon. As my first year of teaching students in our school program comes to an end, I begin to reflect on everything I have learned during this year.

Friday, 02 May 2014 10:18

Build It!

“Get out your hard hat! It’s time to put some materials to the test. Stretch’em, soak’em, crush’em – use what you learned to construct something (a bridge, a bird nest or a building) to solve a problem.”

This is the description for one of our school programs for second graders. We use the Three Little Pigs story as a reference. Students get to know about the properties of certain materials, then they are divided into groups to build up sturdy enough structures out of cups so as to withstand the wolves’ huffs and puffs.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014 14:59

Rivers of Fun

Spring is always a time of excitement and of release. As the snow melts and the birds return, I feel a sense of relief from the cooped-up restlessness of winter. The students I work with seem to have the same experience, though of course in a more exaggerated way. After a winter in often windowless classrooms, they are as wiggly physically as I am mentally.

The typical structure of our classes with the Neighborhood Environmental Education Project, our school program, is to do one or two short activities inside before heading out into the park.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 11:17

The “Heartbeat” of a Community

It was another sunny day in the Menomonee Valley. Delma placed the stethoscope against a gnarly tree branch in Three Bridges Park. Her eyes grew wide and she shouted “I can hear it! The tree has a pulse!”

Several minutes, and several tree pulses later, Delma approached me and said, “My grandfather in Mexico used to place his ear to the ground and say he could hear the heartbeat of the earth. Is it true that the earth has a heartbeat? Now that I’ve heard the pulses of the trees I think he is right.” It was one of the most profound and beautiful statements I have ever heard, and it came from a seventh grader.

When I was first hired as an Environmental Educator seven years ago the Washington Park branch was just getting started. I had spent the last four years teaching in a variety of environmental education centers where my outdoor classroom had been a forest.

My new outdoor classroom was not a forest but a city park that had a lagoon with a very distinct “stinky end,” some nicely spaced trees and grass. All I could see were the challenges in not having decomposing logs to roll over, undergrowth to play camouflage or a gully of rocks; in short, all the things I was used to having when teaching a class.

I came to the Center two and a half years ago as a summer camp intern. As my role has changed from environmental educator to volunteer coordinator and community health evaluation coordinator, I have found myself reflecting on a question that has repeatedly come up in the various roles I’ve held: What is environmentalism?

It didn’t take long in my role as an educator to notice that how I engaged with nature wasn’t universal. Activities I loved as a child, like catching bugs or sitting quietly in the woods or playing in snow, while appreciated by some, could be terrifying, disgusting or down right boring to some of my students.

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