Kathleen Bushnell Owsley is president of the Bosch Community Fund
In my work, I am observing a growing movement in hands-on, project-based learning that combines environmental topics and problem solving. This is a prime opportunity for quality education and building stewardship for our natural resources and community assets.
Research from the Education Evaluation Collaborative shows that place-based education efforts not only leave teachers and students feeling more energized, but also foster vibrant partnerships between schools and communities and improve social and economic vitality. Students benefit from this approach as it brings the written page into a greater context. If students are learning about a water ecosystem, for instance, what better way than to visit a local pond or stream to observe how species, plants and other living things are dependent on one another?
Through the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, young environmental stewards launched a comprehensive study of Lake Huron’s water quality to increase awareness of its importance. Fourth- and fifth-grade students investigated biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) indicators at several sites. Students analyzed and interpreted data they collected and shared it through the Great Lakes FieldScope, a web-based mapping, analysis, and collaboration tool that engages volunteers and emerging scientists.
Over at Friends of the Rouge, the organization engages thousands of students each year through hands-on science education and provides meaningful service-learning opportunities to get further involved. The Rouge Rescue event is one of the nation’s largest annual clean-up events. Each year, citizens and students throughout southeastern Michigan gather at sites around the watershed for a day of restoring and celebrating the Rouge River.
Meanwhile, at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, the Freshwater Forum’s Water on the Go! program is offered throughout Michigan. Originally funded by a grant through the Consumers Energy Foundation, this program brings freshwater education into Michigan classrooms. Programs engage students in fun presentations and hands-on learning about water science and protecting the Great Lakes.
Through funding from the Bosch Community Fund, design-thinking Water on the Go! programs are offered to teachers and students in the sixth- through eighth-grade range in communities including Farmington, Farmington Hills, Flat Rock, Livonia, Plymouth, Canton and Warren.
Each of these programs integrates Next Generation Science Standards and is designed to challenge students to engineer solutions to real-world problems facing the Great Lakes through the creation and testing of prototypes.
On the west side of the state, the Plaster Creek’s Stewards Green Team is doing noteworthy work with students. The Green Team collaborates with urban youths on the topics including runoff reduction into the Grand River, watershed restoration and training in green infrastructure (GI) job skills. Green workforce development focuses on a downstream community (Plaster Creek watershed) and one upstream community (Rogue River watershed). The Green Team summer program will train participants in GI design, installation and maintenance. By working alongside Plaster Creek Stewards and Trout Unlimited/Rogue River staff and volunteers, participants will be exposed to urban watershed issues and their relevance to environmental justice. The program is also a potential model for youth empowerment with other upstream-downstream watershed organizations. Ultimately, the Green Team educates at-risk youth about watershed and environmental justice issues while training participants to develop job skills.
As funders (and parents), we at the Bosch Community Fund have a long wish list as it relates to eco+STEM education. We hope to shed light on the important work of our partners to raise interest by students, parents and educators to integrate this into their curricula and communities. We strive for this type of educational experience to become the norm versus the extraordinary for all Michigan students, so they have the experience of project-based and place-based education that aims to encourage their passion to become good stewards of their environment.
Finally, we hope to bring other partners along to create more momentum, energy and resources to collaborate, connect and gain strength together. Understanding where we have attention and resources - as well as gaps - is key to building awareness and inclusion so that all our young people see a role for themselves in supporting their community and environment.