Thanks to all those that helped organize, staff and contributed to the Big Night, a fundraiser that pays for a big chunk of the Ecology Program. We had a great time feeling the LOVE of our school community.
So this week really kicks off the Spring Field Ecology schedule.
On Tuesday, May 3, at 8:30, 2nd Grade, Room 203 treks to the River to sketch the riverbank Spring flowers, check the weather, and check out the creatures that inhabit the bottom muds of our River. Please join us right after drop off. Back by 10:30.
On Wednesday, May 4, 5th Grade Room 304, is off on their last Sauganash trip as Mighty Acorns. We will be pulling weeds and exploring. The theme of this last trip is "The Pressure's On" an ecology simulation where children take on the identity of various organisms in our world: from the Prairie Fringed Orchid (rare and conservative) to grey squirrels (common), to cockroaches (weedy or invasive). The students respond to randomly chosen "event" cards that are read out loud. For example, "A wetland is drained in order to build a new shopping mall". Each student / organism has to consider how this event will impact their prospects. In this case, aquatic plants and animals will be negatively impacted, while cockroaches will give a cheer. Each event and its consequence are tracked for each organism. In class this is done as a kind of graph with an upward movement representing a thriving community, and a downward movement representing an approach to extinction (or extirpation). We arbitrarily set the breaking points at 5 steps upward or downwards. When an organism reaches Thrive or Extinction, we tally the position of all the organisms and consider the meaning of this data.
For example, if cockroach reaches Thrive, we will also note great populations of house sparrows, crown vetch, buckthorn, Norway rats, and zebra mussels, etc. We will also note that the conservative species are approaching extinction.
This is one potential outcome based on a prevalence of "events" that benefit weeds and invasives at the expense of native, conservative species. Of course, if the randomly chosen events favor conservative species, like for example, school adopts Forest Preserve site and removes buckthorn, then we might see them Thriving.
The point is that all these events are not really random in real life. They are choices that we make as a community and polity. We can choose which outcome we want to work for. We can "stack the deck" in favor of bio-diversity, by getting involved in restoration work, helping our rivers and watershed, protecting our lake, making gardens and building our communities. The Pressure's On, and it's up to us what the future will be.
I told our students that tho' this is their last trip as Mighty Acorns, it needn't be their last trip as a protector of our natural habitats, as restorers and enjoyers. The Forest Preserve has scores of restoration sites with many volunteer workdays throughout the year. They are listed at the Forest Preserve Distric website. My own organization, North Branch Restoration Project has 17 sites along the Chicago River, including Sauganash. School families are welcomed and encourage to explore and enjoy on their own, or to attend workdays to continue the good work. The schedule can be accessed here.
Please join us on this outing. Meet in the Conference Room at 9:00 for coffee and a briefing. Back at school by 1:00. Picnic lunch in the Grove.
On Thursday, we received funding from the National Forest Service to take those 8th graders not going to Washington DC, on a day long outing to the Illinois State Beach Nature Preserve. (Thanks to Julie, Carolyn and Drew for pushing this through). This spectacular entity, accorded the highest level of protection from the State Government since 1964, is considered a vivid, existing replica of what the Chicago landscape looked like before being colonized and developed. The Dead River, mimics the old slow-draining ("dead") prairies and wetland river that once drained the mighty marshes around Chicago. This river is so low energy that it sometimes is sealed off at its entrance to the Lake by sand and wave action. When this happens the river levels slowly rise behind the dam until the building pressure collapses the dam and the water drains out in a gushing wave. Fun! The preserve has natural dunes and swales, upland black oak savannas, and vast marshes. When I was there last week it was newly burned and smelled like bacon!
While we are taking our 2-3 hour hike, teams of students will try to identify as many organisms as possible: birds, fish, bugs, fungi, frogs, turtles, trees, shrubs, plants and mosses, with the help of knowledgeable adults (and many field guidebooks). This experience will help these students act as mentors to other Waters Students when we conduct our own census of organisms (sometimes called a Bio-Blitz) on Wednesday, June 8th.
We will be gone all day Thursday from 8:15 until 3:15. If you would like to help, please join us. Pack a healthy lunch and bring a water bottle. Sorry, no swimming on this trip.
On Friday, 7th grade, Room 302, takes the CTA to Montrose Point to study Lake Michigan food webs by fishing for gobies and feeding them to gulls. After lunch we will be out on the beach by the dunes. Students in teams will collect human and nature-made objects from the beach, and assemble them into framed artworks in the sand. The whole group will view each effort and consider the motives of the artists. We'll take pictures of each. Then the human-made items will be put in the trash, and the natural items returned to the dune. If you have not been to the resurrected dune ecosystem at the Point, please find time to visit. It is one more small miracle in our midst.
Last week Kinder-Rooms 107 and 105 went to the garden to plant potatoes, prep their beautiful Mother's Day Marigolds (surprise! shh!) to present to their mommies, and to hear delightful stories around the log circle from their teachers. Room 108 got canceled because of cold and wet. It may be re-scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday. Standby!
Wednesday night is garden night, 5- dark.
On Saturday, from 9:30 - 12:00 our local Scouts will be putting in a fence and gooseberries along the edge of the path outside of Room 107. Right now that areas is slowly succumbing to entropy and becoming a wasteland. With the Scouts efforts, and everyone keeping their eyes open, that area can become beautiful and a fruit producer. Thanks to Dave Byerly for organizing this event.
Phew, Phew! Sunday, May 8, Mother's Day!!! Celebrate with a Riverbank Neighbor's workday, from 12-3. If you don't want to work, just come for a walk. The bank is stunning. The recent rains will cause a giant growth spurt. Right now Virginia Bluebells, Golden Alexanders, May Apples, Woodland Phlox, wild hyacinth and many other things are in bloom. One past Mother's Day we promenaded down the bank path and were blocked by an unperturbed beaver. It was eating twigs from a fallen willow branch, bit by bit, like satay! It's a miracle a minute in this world!
Next week accelerates!!!