Hope for a Falling Planet: How working with the TREES and Compass Environmental Adventure students a
One of my favorite parts of my job at Drumlin Farm has always been working with our captive, rehabilitated native wildlife. I always find that the students are very focused and attentive when wildlife are involved. When appropriate we also bring ”habitat in a bag” for the animals. Items may include leaves, logs, bark, pond water and more. I emphasize how important healthy habitat is to the survival of animals and plants so we always bring our habitat from Drumlin Farm where we know that we practice sustainable farming with minimal exposure to chemicals and other substances harmful to the environment.
As I have students help me set up the animal’s temporary habitat, I ask a lot of questions! What is a habitat? What do animals need to survive? Food, water, shelter and space? How are we going to set this up? Why do we need a tarp? What does the animal eat? Can they find it in the wild? Would it be healthy? Where did the water come from? Is it healthy? Is there food in the water? How much space does this animal need? Why is space important? By involving students with setting up the temporary habitat for the wildlife, we engage their interest in the importance of having healthy adequate habitat and they make the connection to their local community. When the students decide the temporary habitat is complete, we introduce the animal and observe its behavior and how it interacts with its habitat. We then have time for student questions and observations. We often like to follow a visit with the wildlife with a trip to a local open space such as a park, forest or wetland.
In 2005 I began teaching after school programs in Lowell. I had long been interested in the rivers of the Gulf of Maine watershed and this just seemed like a perfect extension. Mass Audubon had formed a partnership with Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust (LP&CT) to do environmentally focused after school programs. Partnering with a teacher from LP&CT, our first program was called Backyard Adventures. Together with the students we met local wildlife from Drumlin Farm and explored the pond, fields and forests near the school. The students picked an environmentally based project to do at the end of the semester. It was great fun for all and the students learned about their local community. Over the years the program has grown and is now known as Lowell Leaders in Stewardship.
Our Lowell High School (LHS) students have been inspired by the Drumlin Farm wildlife for many years. They have also explored the many wonderful open spaces of Lowell: parks, rivers, forests, conservation areas, alleys and more. Through various student driven projects over the years they have become excellent environmental stewards. They have cleaned up the alley near Freshman Academy, planted flowers for pollinators and built a rain garden to divert storm water from running into the Merrimack River. They monitor the water quality and the macroinvertebrates of the Concord River. They do climate change research by observing bud burst and leaf fall of a local red maple and by observing changes in Our Changing Forest plot at LP&CT’s West Meadow land through the Harvard Forest Schoolyard LTER program.
Our LHS after school program, Compass Environmental Adventures, started in 2010. After the first year the sophomores returned as mentors. The next year we had junior and sophomore mentors. At this point we suggested that the upper classmen start their own program and they did. They named themselves T.R.E.E.S, Teens Respecting Environmental Excellency and Stewardship. Their first project, which was supported by a grant they applied for and received from the Mass Cultural Council, was a campaign to SAVE THE EARTH, VISIT A PARK. As they said in their mission statement:
As teens who are native to Lowell we really didn’t experience many outdoor activities until we joined Environmental Adventures, an afterschool program for freshman at Lowell High School. As a group we desired to expand the ideas we executed in Environmental Adventures. We started TREES in late 2014. We wanted to build a program that revolves around the natural environment of Lowell by enriching students and communities with the knowledge about the nature around them in their city.
The next year the T.R.E.E.S. students decided to expand beyond Lowell and created the first annual Lowell High School Environmental Youth Conference. Their mission:
To raise awareness of the environmental issues in the diverse communities that are connected by the Merrimack and SuAsCo watersheds in Massachusetts.
The T.R.E.E.S and Compass Environmental Adventures students have been inspired by Drumlin Farm wildlife and enriched by the many and varied habitats of Lowell. They are keenly aware of the issues facing the Earth because of climate change. As one of our students said,
“I am a global citizen but I can’t do anything to help the world but I can help my community. I can start small and go big, little by humongous 'cause although the world around us is falling we can do our best to help catch it.”
I grew up in Newton, MA where I spent most of my free time outdoors exploring the forests, fields and wetlands with my neighborhood friends. I also spent time on a Vermont farm and in a large wild garden in Connecticut. From my mother, who was an artist and musician, I learned to recognize the beautiful sounds and designs in nature. In school I always was drawn to science. When we moved to Concord MA in 1975 I discovered Drumlin Farm. My children and I spent many happy hours there taking classes. I have been a teacher naturalist at Drumlin Farm since 1984. I have taught family and school programs both onsite and offsite and am trained to work with Drumlin Farm wildlife. I have taught after school environmental programs in Lowell since 2005 and continue to be inspired by the youth in these programs. I am especially fond of reptiles and amphibians and the wetlands they inhabit. I have been participating in the Harvard Forest Schoolyard LTER programs since 2008 including: Water in the Landscape Vernal Pools, Leaves Buds and Global Warming and Our Changing Forests BA Mt Holyoke College MS and PhD University of Michigan at Ann Arbor