I am an oak sapling.
The first few years in my forest were hard for me, fighting my way through the tangle of other trees and shrubs, all of us trying to push our way up to the sky. But one day last fall, everything changed. I had been enjoying the particularly dazzling autumnal drama of the day when the voices of children – lots of children, and from the sound of it rather exuberant ones – pulled me from my reverie. There they came, most of them taller than me. I was excited, for I love to watch people enjoying my woods. But then I realized with terror that these small visitors weren’t just here for a romp on a fine day. They were armed, and they unleashed the loppers they carried on the understory around me with a dizzying energy. It seemed no one would be spared, but as quickly as they had come they were gone, and I was still standing. I’ve been waiting for them to come back so I can thank them somehow for freeing me from the invasive bullies that had crowded all around me, stealing my light and the nutrients from the soil. I want to show them how tall I’ve grown, and how healthy my leaves are now that I can see the sun. I want them to understand how much they helped me, and I want them to come back and enjoy my shade when we are all grown up.
I am Mrs. Hankes-Ixpata.
Or at least that’s what my fourth-graders at Clifford Johnson Elementary School in Warrenville call me. But you can call me Bridgett. When I ask my students each May what their favorite part of the school year was, it’s Mighty Acorns®, hands down, every time. Three times a year for the last six years I have had experienced educators come to my classroom to teach my students through tactile learning tools and hands-on outdoor stewardship activities in the prairie and wetland behind our school. These teachers from The Conservation Foundation are passionate, knowledgeable, and fun and make science come alive for my students in a way I never could using a textbook. I am always amazed at what a great equalizer Nature is. When we get outside into the natural area, it doesn’t matter who is good at reading, who has a hard time with math, who is in a wheelchair. We can all see things, make discoveries. And while we are getting a nice break from the classroom routine, we are also helping restore health and balance to what was a pretty degraded natural area. My students take a lot of pride in that, and I see them pointing out frogs and butterflies at recess and bringing their families on weekends to look at what they have done in their prairie. It’s like a field trip that comes right to our classroom door, and I think it is actually more impactful and relatable for the children since it is happening right in their community.
The students and natural areas of our region have been taking care of each other for more than a decade through The Conservation Foundation’s Mighty Acorns®, a stewardship-based environmental education program that includes in-class and outdoor exploration components. Mighty Acorns® is offered throughout the Chicagoland region to children in 4th – 6th grades and emphasizes land and water stewardship, key concepts about biodiversity, and exploration of the outdoors. The curriculum provides pre- and post-visit activities for the classroom, and focuses on our region’s native prairie, woodland and wetland ecosystems. Students adopt a natural area in their community and visit it fall, winter and spring to participate in activities such as seed collecting and planting, brush cutting and pulling garlic mustard. Each field trip is preceded by a classroom lesson on related ecological concepts.
The Conservation Foundation delivers the Mighty Acorns® program to several schools and youth groups in our service region. These programs had previously been funded, in part, by grants. This past year the grantors have shifted their budgeting priorities resulting in a decrease in funding to the Mighty Acorns® program of roughly $25,000. If we cannot make up this deficit, we face the devastating decision of cutting some or all of our Mighty Acorns® programs. We need your help to raise this money now, so the children and natural areas of our region can continue to care for and learn from each other.
I am a dollar.
I’ve gotten pretty comfortable here with the crumbs and change in the console of your car. But lately I’ve been getting the feeling that I could be doing something more. Like there is a greater destiny out there for me than becoming payment for a toll or your morning cup of coffee. I love when you drive down that wooded stretch on your way to work. I like to imagine those beautiful trees are shaking their leaves to say hello to me. But my very favorite time of day is when you pick your kids up from school. I love hearing them talk about what they learned, who they made friends with. Those kids. Those trees. I’d like to help them both.