This spring, Ms. Sharp’s seventh grade class at Albany Park Multicultural Academy had a unique opportunity to step out of the classroom and into nature to learn how their actions impact the world around them.
Thanks to EnvironMENTORS Chicago Outreach (ECO) founders—and recent college graduates—Jamie Herget and Christine Chung, these students embarked on a five-week journey covering environmental stewardship, native and invasive species, urban wildlife and outdoor recreation.
The Forest Preserve Foundation served as fiscal agent for the EnvironMENTORS program, which received planning and financial support from Outdoor Nation, a non-profit focused on getting children outside.
“Today’s youth suffer from nature deficit disorder, or a lack of exposure to the outdoors,” said Chung, who holds a bachelor’s degree in natural resources and environmental sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Oftentimes, urban youth have a limited understanding and experience with nature due to absence of adult guidance, fear of the unknown, and lack of knowledge about the environment.”
Herget and Chung assembled a team of seven mentors, consisting of current college students and recent graduates from various schools, to meet with the students for their weekly sessions.The mentors gained valuable hands-on experience while providing meaningful guidance to middle-schoolers.
“The sessions took place in a familiar school setting so they were comfortable with their surroundings,” said Chung. “We wanted the students to create positive mentorships with the EnvironMENTORS so that they would have an optimistic outlook on their relationship with the environment.”
Some of the topics covered included tracking animals in the wild, where students were taught to set up motion censored cameras, and the proper removal of invasives. The final session was held at LaBagh Woods, culminating with a picnic and graduation ceremony.
According to Herget, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in biology at Miami University, “not only did the students look forward to our program and going outside, but so did the mentors and directors.”
The program’s renewal depends on reviews of evaluations from the students, teachers and mentors. “We would like to work on solidifying the program we have created this year before expanding. In the future, we hope to create a more established foundation of directors and EnvironMENTORS,” said Chung. “We would like to see the project expand and grow with the class we worked with this year, as well as possibly take on another class.”
The EnvironMENTORS program turned out to be a big win for Ms. Sharp’s seventh grade class. “We heard that the students really began to look forward to our Monday programs,” Chung said, “and most of all, they enjoyed the opportunity to get outside each time.”