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Volunteer Newsletter: Kids Say the Darndest Things About Nature

a person writing ecological monitoring observations on a clipboard outside at Beaubien Woods as part of the Calumet Is My Back Yard Program.
A student helps monitor plant life at Beaubien Woods as part of the Calumet Is My Back Yard (CIMBY) program. Photo by Laura Milkert/The Field Museum.

Through the Calumet Is My Back Yard (CIMBY) program, students from Chicago’s South Side spend a year learning and volunteering in a natural area close to home (including many Forest Preserves), getting to know it through the seasons and helping to restore habitat.

At the end of last school year, CIMBY leaders wanted to know about the students’ experience. Here’s what happens when you give a questionnaire to a bunch of high schoolers full of fresh air.

What did you succeed in doing as part of CIMBY?

  • Learning more about nature and the place I live.
  • I succeeded in cutting down the big trees with the saw.
  • Cutting down the insidious vines.
  • I pulled a Garlic Mustard.
  • I completed all my service learning hours through CIMBY and saved the world from eco-terrorism.
  • We saved the world.

How did it feel to be part of nature?

  • Made me feel calm and at peace.
  • It felt nice to be out in nature for a whole day. It’s relaxing and every time I came back from a trip I was in a good mood. Really nice and beautiful.
  • I felt really comfortable and free.
  • It was an amazing experience to be a part of our local ecosystem and to be able to help the environment that I call my home.
  • I felt out of place.
  • I felt like I was an explorer.
  • You were just in nature, no city feeling. You could hear the birds chirping and frogs croaking.
  • At first it was an unfamiliar feeling because I never took time before.
  • The first time I was highly agitated but after the third or fourth time I was pretty comfortable and felt I was really making a difference.
  • I felt one with nature – it was like I was connected with it somehow.

Did you challenge yourself in new ways as a part of this experience? If so, how?

  • Pulling the weeds wasn’t challenging.
  • By actually committing to come back.
  • By cutting down trees which I had never imagined doing.
  • To enjoy being outside while it lasted. I also carefully examined the surroundings whenever we went out.
  • I went deep into the forest to protect it.
  • By exposing ourselves to the complexity that is nature.
  • Yes because I’m very girly and I’m not used to this.
  • Yes, I don’t really do nature.

What impact have you had on the community? On the environment?

  • We were able to clear out the area so that it can become a beautiful habitat for the species that live there.
  • Share my experience and telling others to go and explore.
  • I impacted the community by showing an example of respect.
  • We got rid of evasive [sic] species.

What is the single most important thing you learned?

  • I learned about my rekindled love for nature and science.
  • That nature can be fun and so close by.
  • I’ve learned that the simplest things can make a difference in my life and my community.
  • I learned that nature is a very important part of our life and that it is up to us to make it better and take good care of it for future generations.
  • I learned that nature is bigger than a park. It’s all around us and it’s not difficult to help.
  • That there are bigger things out there than humans. The ecosystem has to work together.
  • Nature isn’t for me, but I support those who do what they do.
  • I learned that Chicago means stinky onion!

How has your CIMBY experience influenced your attitude about your ability to make a difference?

  • My experience in CIMBY was really beautiful and hands-on, it changed my attitude because it made me more inspired by nature and being in it.
  • My attitude has been very upturned and just all around happier since helping more in my community and environment.
  • Hasn’t really changed a thing, I always knew I could make a difference if I really tried.
  • I can make a difference! I can do anything!
  • I wanna make a difference, it’s a good push.
  • Changed my perspective on how much power we have as a community.
  • It was great because I never did that and I enjoyed myself — it made me a person that’s really starting to like the environment.
  • I don’t feel helpless as to making a difference anymore. I feel that I can make a change in the world.

This is just a small selection from last year’s student responses. Many thanks to the Field Museum’s Laura Milkert and volunteer John Balaban for sharing them. CIMBY is a collaboration between Chicago Public Schools and the Field Museum.