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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

February 1998

Students in Hawyard stenciled storm drains to remind residents that rain and snow carry oil, leaves, pet waste, garbage and other pollutants into the area's lakes. © Robert Queen
Students in Hawyard stenciled storm drains to remind residents that rain and snow carry oil, leaves, pet waste, garbage and other pollutants into the area's lakes.

© Robert Queen

The Earth Day Project

Schools and organizations committed to helping the environment and their communities fly the Earth Flag with pride.

Janet L. Hutchens and Al Stenstrup

Restoring habitat, renewing community
Projects that made a difference | Join the Earth Day Project!

School doors used to keep students inside and the community outside. Today, those doors are wide open. With the support of local citizens and assistance from a special DNR project, Wisconsin students are becoming active in a host of environmental projects to benefit communities around the state. The Earth Flag recognizes their efforts.

More than 350 Earth Flags and banners now fly in the schools that have joined DNR's Earth Day Project, which began in 1994. Participating educators and students learn about an environmental topic and take action on a project to reinforce classroom knowledge with practical experience.

Restoring habitat and renewing community ties

The Earth Day Project is open to schools, classrooms, nature centers, 4-H groups, scouts, other student groups and organizations.

Five groups in particular took on long-term projects involving extensive research and field work. Later, each shared what they learned with others to further increase the value of their projects.

Over a two-year period, a classroom of West Allis H.S. juniors and seniors restored a small native prairie on the urban school grounds in West Allis. Students designed a landscaping plan, studied wildflower and grassland habitat, and took soil samples prior to planting. They also participated in a biomonitoring project by growing and examining milkweed plants to look for signs of ozone (air pollution) damage. All the research was combined into a large report, which was distributed to other school districts. The students then held a prairie workshop for a local elementary school, featuring discussions on food chains, worm composting, soil testing and prairie restoration. The high school is now planting a medicine garden.

In Madison, more than 100 girl scouts participated in a habitat restoration project on a property owned by the Black Hawk Council of Girl Scouts. The scouts helped plan three nature trails, and determined maintenance needs. They planted native species on the site, and built and erected bluebird houses along the trails.

A Girl Scout builds a bluebird house for a nature trail project.
A Girl Scout builds a bluebird house for a nature trail project.

© Robert Queen

They'll monitor nesting habits and collect data to share with the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin, as well as maintain the trails throughout the seasons. These activities will be incorporated into badge requirements for different age levels.

In another trail project, the Prospect Elementary School in Lake Mills joined the neighboring community to restore a fire-damaged bridge on the Glacial Drumlin Recreational Trail. Teachers wanted students to participate in a community service project that would help the environment, provide recreation within the area, and give the students ownership in their community. They teamed up with the DNR trail manager, who provided background materials on wildlife and adjacent wetlands, and planned an "Earth Day Walk-a-Thon." Businesses, citizens and students in grades 1-5 collected pledges. On Earth Day, participants walked the Glacial Drumlin Trail and received a badge and refreshments. The pledge money was donated for the rebuilding project.

The juniors and seniors in the Environmental Research Class at the high school in Hayward recently completed "Drains to Lake – Dump No Waste" stencil project warning citizens about dumping wastes in storm drains. (See our October 1996 article Paint the Town with WAVes.) During the summer the students worked with DNR field staff in removing purple loosestrife from waterways in the area. Several students are continuing research to assess the health of their school forest. The community has assisted the class by supporting fund-raising drives and providing technical support. An area business has provided funding for computer technology.

Over at the Lakewood School in Twin Lakes, the eighth grade classes have been involved with water quality testing for the past seven years. During the fall and spring, students test area waters for pollutants such as ammonia nitrogen, chlorine, chromium, copper, nitrogen, and phosphorus. The results of the tests are then analyzed, graphed and compared with previous years' findings to help students see patterns in particular waterways and with certain types of pollutants. The students' test results were published in a letter to the local newspaper, to make the community aware of pollutant levels and to voice their concern about local water quality.

Other projects that made a difference

Hundreds of schools and groups are participating in Earth Day Projects to enhance students' understanding of environmental issues. The Bayview Environmental Committee in Green Bay got 933 students to collect plastic six-pack rings, count them as a math activity, and then recycle the rings.

All 600 students at Farnsworth Middle School in Sheboygan participated in a month-long environmental education unit in April 1997, studying air and water quality, wildlife management, and forestry issues. Each student brought in paper grocery bags from home and decorated the bags with environmental themes. The school delivered the bags to grocery stores for reuse by customers.

The 5th Grade Environmental Club at Harry Spence Elementary School in La Crosse planted 108 shrubs and bushes for a butterfly garden on the school grounds. On Earth Day, the school sang an environmental song as they raised their Earth Flag and then enjoyed a school-wide ecological picnic. They also measured the school lunch program's food and paper waste for one week to promote waste prevention.

In 1996, Washington Elementary School in Wisconsin Rapids was already in its third year of restoring its 40 acres of school property when the school registered for the Earth Day program. Students at each grade level study and restore specific plots, then teach others about the property during the school year. This environmental program was built into integrated units at all grade levels. The school project built partnerships with the Wood County Land Conservation Office, Consolidated Papers Forest Managers, DNR staff, FFA students, school maintenance personnel, and parents.

Finding ways to turn their school forest into a learning environment and a place to appreciate natural beauty intrigued 40 gifted and talented students at Viroqua Elementary School in Viroqua. They studied tree identification and forest products, and mapped their forest to scale. The students created a guide brochure for the forest and wrote articles for the local newspapers. They plan to identify and label trees, create a historical record on videotape, build bird houses and feeders, create new trails, and write grants to fund these projects.

The Lucky Hills 4-H Club of Medford adopted two lakes to study lake ecology, knowing one was seriously degraded. They researched water quality by testing the oxygen levels and sampling aquatic insects in both the winter and summer months. The group joined the DNR's "self-help lake monitoring" program, regularly sampling each lake for clarity. 4-H members also partnered with the sportsman's club for funding and DNR for assistance. They have future plans to aerate the "dead" lake, educate land owners and possibly restock fish.

Teacher Terri Fuller of Mayville Public Schools in Mayville designed an innovative program on sound for her 78 third-grade music students. Students compared human and natural sounds, examining noise pollution and the human relationship with music and the environment. Native American music and arts planned for the spring unit will carry on the theme throughout the school year.

The Outdoor Club at Lac du Flambeau School, Lac du Flambeau, studied different types of songbirds in North America by using identification videotapes. They also invited a birder to share his expertise with the club. Members traveled to Duluth to watch hawk migration and hike the Sylvan Trails, took part in the annual Christmas Bird Count in their area, and planted 200 pine seedlings to improve bird habitat. They plan to plant more trees and create bird observation and feeding stations.

Clean air is an important environmental issue in Milwaukee at the Grand Avenue School. One-hundred seventeen students studied the global effects of energy use, including air pollution, global warming, weakening of the ozone layer, and the greenhouse effect. Students took part in the "Schools & Business = Clean Air" program by designing and distributing posters and creating exhibits to promote and persuade local adults to reduce air pollution.

In Reedsburg, water is the issue. Approximately 850 students at Webb High School studied runoff, pollution and wetlands. Students followed up their studies by joining the Water Action Volunteers program and stenciling storm drains, testing water quality in local rivers and streams, and participating in a river clean-up program along the Baraboo River.

You, too, can fly the flag

For the 1997-1998 school year, Wisconsin's students and educators are invited to take action and participate in the Department of Natural Resources' Fourth Annual Earth Day Project. The theme this year, selected in honor of Wisconsin's Sesquicentennial, is "Celebrate Our Heritage & Sustain Our Resources."

There are two ways to participate: as a single classroom or group, or as a school (four or more classes) or organization. Simply pick an environmental topic to study.Earth Flag Project logo, designed by Linda Pohlod Educators are encouraged to select a topic related to this year's theme – Wisconsin's cultural and environmental history, and develop projects aimed to sustain future resources for generations to come. You can choose a subject you are already studying, an ongoing class/school project, or something new.

Interested classrooms, schools or groups should request a registration packet, fill out the form and include a specific description of what you studied, how you integrated the topic/activity into your curriculum, and the educational resources you used. The program fee is $15 for a classroom or group, and $25 for a school or organization. The registration deadline is March 15, 1998. To acknowledge your participation and achievements, classrooms and groups will receive a 2' x 3' indoor banner; schools or organizations will receive a 3' x 5' outdoor flag. Flags and banners will be mailed out in time for Earth Day, April 22, 1998.

Get the flags flying in your community! If you have any questions or would like a registration packet, contact Janet Hutchens, (608/267-2463) or write:

1998 Earth Day Project
c/o Project WILD/Project Learning Tree
Department of Natural Resources, CE/6
P.O. Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707-7921

Janet L. Hutchens is DNR's assistant coordinator of the Project WILD and Project Learning Tree environmental education programs in Wisconsin. Al Stenstrup is DNR's Education Outreach Coordinator.