By Anne Eickstadt

Tina Dawson-Scott and Pat Castro from the Boone County Conservation District supervised as members of Belvidere Middle School’s Earth Force team planted eight trees around the school on Wednesday, June 1. Originally scheduled for Wednesday, May 25, the tree planting was rescheduled due to inclement weather.

“The Earth Force program takes students through steps to narrow down a project that will improve the community as well as the environment,” said Dawson-Scott. “The students decided to do their small part in combating climate change.  They did their research and got permission to plant trees on school grounds.

“They consulted with the Boone County Conservation District and spoke with a Master Gardener of Boone County to decide on the best trees to plant in this area and created a budget. They applied for a grant of $1000 to purchase the trees and were awarded the full amount. They purchased Male Gingko Trees and Swamp White Oak trees for this project.

“We started with a few more kids, but only two of them have hung in there and have come today to plant the trees – Angel Garcia, 7th Grade at Belvidere South Middle School and Ari Ocampo, 4th Grade, of Seth Whitman Elementary School. Iris Nava came to help her friend Ari plant trees today.

Earth Force has developed an educational framework that excels at developing the civic skills that young people need while at the same time deepening students understanding of STEM concepts that is essential for them to be successful in their careers and their communities. All of their programs are designed around this award-winning Community Action and Problem-Solving Process.

Community Action and Problem-Solving Process

The community action and problem-solving process combines the best of civic engagement, environmental education, and STEM. Youth work together through educator facilitation to design and implement a project to explore root causes and address a policy or practice related to the environmental issue that they identify in their community. Earth Force’s focus on civic engagement helps learners to become active participants in their communities by conducting balanced research, building strong community partnerships, and making decisions as a democratic group.

The process takes students through six steps:

Step 1: Discover – Community Environmental Inventory

Step 2: Decide – Issue Selection

Step 3: Discover – Policy & Practice Research

Step 4: Decide – Goal & Strategy Selection

Step 5: Act – Planning & Taking Civic Action

Step 6: Conclude – Review & Share

Educators across the country use this process to teach science, engineering, math, and humanities to their students. Earth Force Illinois will prepare educators through a blended learning professional development program designed to train and support educators as they help students master science concepts by applying what they learn in the classroom to the problems they find in their communities. EEAI will assist educators in connecting to other local organizations, scientists and environmental experts to assist with issue investigation, project development and project implementation to ensure appropriate connection to local environmental issues.

Earth Force is aligned with IL State Learning Standards. Through the program young people design and implement their own project to address a local environmental issue, gaining hands-on experience in applying what they have learned in the classroom to real-world situations: 91 percent of students show an increase in 21st century skills and 84 percent of students show an increase in understanding of environmental issues.

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