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May 10,
2004

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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

'Green' group reaches out to local school

Think globally, act locally" was more than just a catchy phrase for students from Grassroots, a campus group dedicated to educating the public about environmental issues. It was a call to action. This year, the students reached out to Rochester City School No. 19 in the 19th Ward as part of a year-long environmental education program for fourth- and fifth-grade classes.

Grassroots members began organizing the project last summer, with the help of University REACH funding, and several members of the group received certification from the Department of Environmental Conservation to teach nature-oriented lessons to young children. The program kicked off in the fall with eight Grassroots members volunteering to teach one-hour weekly classes on topics ranging from the basic elements of habitat to the risks posed by pesticide application.

"The goal of the program is not simply to teach a rudimentary understanding of the challenges posed to our natural environment," says Andrew David Hall '06, Grassroots president. "It is more to imbue the students with a sense of their own potential and corresponding responsibility within the global community.

"It's about connections and understanding how their little corner of Rochester affects and is affected by all the other little corners of our world. My hope leaving the classroom each week was that every student would gain a sense of self-empowerment and an impression of their own ability to shape the world around them, for better or worse."

In the program, which continued through the spring semester, elementary students created nature journals made from recycled paper that they used to record their thoughts on the lessons and reflect on questions from instructors.

Annie Podkaminer '05, a Grassroots member who helped coordinate the program, says group members worked with University faculty and teachers from School No. 19 to develop a curriculum that would be fun while at the same time help meet state education requirements.

"April Lynn Luehmann, assistant professor of teaching and curriculum at the Warner School, helped us focus our curriculum around what the students were already learning and helped us recognize what the students were required to learn for their state exams so we could complement that. We also spoke with some of the students' teachers and found out what they were teaching as part of their grade-level curriculum," says Podkaminer.

"The lessons were a mix of regular lessons and activities. We took the students outside to observe their environment and see how issues such as litter and pollution affect their lives. We also discussed the water cycle and what happens to water that leaves local factories and how Lake Ontario is affected by pollution. Our overall mission was to make the young citizens of the 19th Ward more aware of their surroundings. With this awareness and appreciation, the students will then be more inclined to care for their environment. We taught the students methods on how to conserve and hope that they will use those techniques throughout their life," she adds.

As a culmination to the project, Grassroots members invited elementary students from the school to join them for an Arbor Day campus tour on April 30. The children had the chance to take a closer look at many plant varieties and to discuss the differences between deciduous and coniferous trees as well as the opportunity to see and experience what life is like on a University campus that is only minutes from their homes and school.

"The reason we were so pleased the students were able to come to the campus is that a college is really based on the idea of connections," says Hall. "It's where students go to place their lives within broader historical and cultural contexts. We wanted the students from the 19th Ward to look around and feel like this campus is a place where they are welcome."



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