Sometimes being correct and precise is important, and it seemed especially so in our Wisconsin sojourn. For instance, in our recent programs in schools near New Berlin, Wisconsin (near Milwaukee), we were instructed on several occasions that the correct pronunciation of the town name stresses the “Ber” and not the “lin” in New Berlin. As a result, we were really on our toes and determined to be as correct as possible with the six 5th grade classes we saw in the area last week. We had a good game plan, and felt well-practiced and prepared as we took on the challenge to be “smarter than a 5th grader” during our Leave No Trace presentations in their classrooms. It was a close contest, and regardless of the final outcome of this particular match with this particular cadre of 11-year old 5th graders, who clearly had a home field advantage (and we’re demanding a recount), we still feel confident in contending that we are definitely smarter than our sweet 11-year old Black Labrador Retriever... mostly.
Honestly, we were blown away by the enthusiasm and critical thinking skills that the kids demonstrated. The classes were brimming with energy and intelligence, and the students caught on quickly to the principles of Leave No Trace and how they related to their daily activities. We talked a lot about “Trash Your Trash,” and found that the students are studying topics involving decomposition, composting and recycling. They seemed to have a good grasp of the basic tenets of “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle,” and understood that even though a plastic bottle would take 200-400 years to break down if left along the side of a trail, the appropriate (and correct) place for the bottle is in the recycle bin where it might be turned into a useful product like our plastic Leave No Trace hangtags. Even better, many of the kids demonstrated a great strategy for reducing unnecessary resource consumption by keeping reusable water bottles at their desks instead of the single-use, disposable plastic bottles. The kids were astounded to hear that Americans discard about 2.5 million plastic water bottles every hour.... Larry Lueck, Associate Principal of Poplar Creek Elementary School in New Berlin, told us that his school aspires to become known for its environmental focus, both in terms of academics and in terms of school practices like recycling. Our impression is that they are well on their way to achieving these goals.
At near-by Merton Intermediate, we were particularly impressed with the efforts of 5th grade teacher, Jolie Kreuser, who takes her classes on a “survival” camping trip every spring. Naturally, as part of the fall semester curriculum that prepares students for this experiential learning adventure, she emphasizes the principles of Leave No Trace, especially “Plan Ahead and Prepare.” She also has each student develop a detailed plan for a backcountry trip to a National Park of their choosing, including a complete agenda and packing list. She then challenges them to actually make that trip some day. It’s a great way to plant a seed in each of her 5th grade student’s heads to get outside and enjoy our beautiful and incredibly diverse public lands and the recreational opportunities they offer. And of course, by integrating the seven principles of Leave No Trace into the learning experience, they will be prepared and ready to enjoy the outdoors in the “right kind of way.”
Great teachers, enthusiastic kids, and evidence of a whole lot of Leave No Trace learning going on… these are signs of healthy and hopeful prospects for our public lands.
Hope to see you in an outdoor and experiential classroom down the road,
Peggy and Barrett
e-Word: "experiential education"