Portage fourth-, fifth-graders benefit from Mighty Acorns program

2013-04-14T00:00:00Z Portage fourth-, fifth-graders benefit from Mighty Acorns programDebra J. Dudek, Director of Title and Special Student Programs nwitimes.com

Fourth- and fifth-graders at Central, Myers, Saylor and South Haven Elementary schools have enjoyed the opportunity of participating in the Mighty Acorns program during the 2012-13 school year.

More than 540 students participated in this year’s program. The Mighty Acorns program incorporates classroom curriculum, hands-on restoration activities and exploration to provide students with multiple, meaningful, sustained interactions with the land. The goal is to continue increasing this program so eventually all fourth, fifth, and sixth graders attending Portage Township Schools will have the opportunity to participate.

The Portage Mighty Acorns, started in during the 2011-12 school year, is led by Shirley-Heinze Land Trust, Dunes Learning Center, The Field Museum and supported by ArcelorMittal, and is designed to allow fourth- and fifth-grade students multiple opportunities to develop a relationship with natural environments, and actively participate in restoration by repeatedly spending time participating in stewardship activities in a prairie, woodland, or wetland.

The Mighty Acorns curriculum focuses on adaptation and interdependence. It builds knowledge and skills in ecological restoration and is correlated to the Indiana State Academic Standards. The curriculum includes pre- and post- classroom lessons that complement the stewardship activities and is guided by the core concepts of ecology appropriate for students in fourth through sixth grades. Leaders even took time to develop differentiated lessons to meet the learning needs of all study trip student participants.

Teachers were trained and received materials to use before, during, and after each of the three half-day study trips students take each year as part of this program.

Study trips are made to Imagination Glen, the largest park in the Portage Park system. Students use the land as an outdoor laboratory for learning science and, at the same time, the ecosystem will benefit from their restoration work. By spending time exploring and observing, students become familiar with their adopted ecosystem. As a result of their participation, they see the changes that occur throughout the seasons and years.

During the Fall Mighty Acorns session, students collected seeds from native prairie plants like switch grass, big bluestem grass, Indian grass, yellow coneflower, and wild quinine. During the winter session students located and removed exotic/invasive shrubs like bush honeysuckle, autumn olive and multiflora rose. In the spring, students engaged in one of their favorite activities, pulling garlic mustard, one of the worst herbaceous woodland invaders.

Stewardship is one of the ways the Mighty Acorns program fosters a personal connection between students and natural areas in their communities. Helping to restore a native ecological community by removing nonnative and invasive plants, collecting seeds, and planting seedlings, provides students with a rich and empowering experience that opens a pathway to a strong stewardship ethic.

Studies have shown that students who learn about the world around them through hands-on lessons better retain and understand concepts. Experiences out-of-doors foster a connection with nature that can last a lifetime and lead to a desire to preserve and protect natural area. Portage students are grateful for this experience and look forward to many years of participation in this outstanding educational program.

Thanks again to ArcelorMittal, The Field Museum, Dunes Learning Center, and Shirley-Heinze Land Trust for supporting this program.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

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