The Crazy Wisdom Community Journal • May - August 2012 • Page 68
Bats Need Homes Too
Finding Homes for Bat Houses Gwenyth Darling (left) and Sadye Rasmussen (right) present Scott Spooner, golf course superintendent of Ann Arbor’s Leslie Park Golf Courses, with one of the bat houses built by students from Ann Arbor Learning Community.
Planting a Seed ~
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Protecting water provided the inspiration for a unique AALC student performance at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. AALC’s physical education teacher, Gretchen Plamondon, and their art and drama teacher, Marissa Kowalczuk, collaborated to help students combine dance and poetry in a unique eco-exploration called “Water: A Call to Action.” Kowalczuk’s Eco-Exploration class focused on the power of the public voice and how everyone has the ability to be an advocate or a steward. The results were so inspiring that the collaboration continued this year. One of the highlights of this year’s project was when Rebecca Martusewicz, Ed.D., SEMIS’ CoDirector and Associate Director of Programming, and Director of the EcoJustice Education M.A. program at EMU, worked with Kowalczuk’s middle school students to help them learn about the imbalance of power in relationships including culture vs. nature. Creating Community Magos enthusiastically acknowledges that SEMIS is a “good fit” for AALC’s mission and commitment to environmental education. SEMIS provides opportunities for students to be out in the community as activists. One example of that was Global Service Youth Day in April 2011 when Magos’ class partnered with two Detroit schools, Divine Child High School and Allen Academy, and Greening of Detroit to plant trees in McShane Park in Detroit. The tree planting project represented the continuation of student-planned service opportunities that connect intergenerational service-learning with work the students were doing in the classroom. Magos’ students drew pictures and wrote about their experiences. One student’s entry says, “It took a lot of time and teamwork to plant the tree, but we did it.” Another student’s summary says, “Planting a tree is really hard, but I had fun. The world is cool.”
By Karen Foulke Larson When Southeast Michigan Stewardship (SEMIS) Coalition director Ethan Lowenstein, Ph.D., talks about how students at Ann Arbor Learning Community (AALC) learned about bats and their habits, he gets excited. SEMIS encourages deeper thinking and problem solving about environmental issues. Last year, while learning about the habitats and roles of bats in Michigan ecosystems, Mary Magos’ and Wendy Nagle’s 2nd and 3rd grade students learned that human activities are destroying bats’ natural habitats. The students and teachers felt they needed to do something about the problem. The classes wanted to create places where bats can live without the threat of losing their homes. As Lowenstein enthusiastically shares, the first step was for the students to learn about bats and educate their school community to combat misinformation about bats being dangerous. Lowenstein says, “Part of that educational process was to see how bats are enmeshed in the web of life.”
The first step was for the students to learn about bats and educate their school community to combat misinformation about bats being dangerous. Magos’ and Nagle’s classes wrote letters to local businesses explaining what they were learning about bats and habitats and that they were looking for partners to support the work. Nagle says, “My students wrote letters to many local area businesses and people who they thought might be willing to hang a bat house. In these letters, they tried to teach the recipients all that they had learned about bats, and why they are of value to us and our area.” Lowenstein praises the teachers and students for their “active stewardship role.” One of the letters received an enthusiastic response from AALC’s neighbor on Research Park Drive, Subaru Research & Development. Tiffani Pace from Subaru sent a letter responding that Subaru “could not wait to assist” with the nocturnal habitat project. Subaru also donated $200 for the project! Pace says that the project fits with Subaru’s corporate social responsibility program to help the environment and the community. She was there for the installation of the bat houses and remembers the kids being really excited. “We all were,” she says. The bat houses built by AALC students were installed at many locations in addition to Subaru, including students’ houses, an orchard, a pre-school, and a golf course.
The bat houses built by AALC students were installed at many locations in addition to Subaru, including students’ houses, an orchard, a pre-school, and a golf course. Aerin and Josh Brownlee’s son, Gram, took part in the bat project as a student in Magos’ class. The Brownlees provided pre-cut wood and hammers and helped the students in Magos’ class construct the bat houses. Aerin Brownlee says, “I like the opportunities that SEMIS gives Gram to get involved and advocate for the environment.” SEMIS’ guiding principles A strong and viable Great Lakes ecosystem includes human communities nested within and interdependent with other diverse living systems including water, soil, air, plant, and animal species. • Stewardship of the Great Lakes in Southeast Michigan is defined by the ability to connect with and protect one’s “place.” This requires collaboration with others, recognizing connections to larger economic and political systems, and understanding the impact of human cultures on the ecosystems in which they are nested. • Human cultures create beliefs and behaviors that affect social and ecological systems. Thus, social and ecological justice are interrelated and must be addressed together. • A sustainable Southeastern Michigan depends upon diversity — both human and ecological — and is thus best served by strong democratic and collaborative systems.
“Planting a tree is really hard, but I had fun.” – Ann Arbor Learning Community Student Environmental education is also important to Honey Creek Community School. Al Waters, Executive Director, says Honey Creek welcomes the opportunity SEMIS provides to integrate academic service learning and environmental education and adds it’s a “great opportunity to positively impact the community.” Tracey Marchyok, a 4th/5th grade teacher at AALC, compares the connections between SEMIS schools to tributaries flowing together and the way water connects us. Last October, 4th and 5th graders from Honey Creek and AALC had their first combined event at Lillie Park in Pittsfield Township. Three Honey Creek teachers and three AALC teachers all prepared nature based activities for the students to rotate through. Johnny Thompson, a 4th/5th grade teacher at Honey Creek, says, “Our 4th and 5th grade students were really excited at the prospect of meeting another group of 4th and 5th graders from the area! They enjoyed the field trip a great deal.” That field trip was the first step in a new partnership between Honey Creek and AALC’s 4th and 5th grade students. In February, Marchyok visited Honey Creek to teach Thompson’s students a lesson on world water and local water. She led a discussion of questions about water — including “How did Honey Creek get its name?” — and joined Thompson and her students for an exploration of Honey Creek. Both teachers and their students were excited about the ongoing connections and dialogue about the two schools’ local creeks. Back in February, the teachers also started making plans for an end of the school year picnic to bring their classes together. Spring was also a busy time for three classrooms at AALC (Kindergarten – 3rd grade) who have spent time planting gardens for Arbor Hospice. Several AALC teachers applied for grant money at the start of the school year to design and plant gardens. AALC teachers planned and worked throughout the year to provide educational lessons that led up to the planting experience. A core aspect of SEMIS involves creating school-community partnerships. SEMIS has more than twenty community partners, including the Huron River Watershed Council and the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor, and the Greening of Detroit and Matrix Theatre Company in Detroit. For example, Marchyok has been working for three years with the Huron River Watershed Council on the Mallett’s Creek project. As stewards, AALC students have participated in World Water Monitoring Day, conducted a stream habitat survey, and are involved in ongoing observation, clean-up, and monitoring. Magos appreciates the “pairings” that “allow teachers and students to gain support on projects and make connections with our community.” Professional Development As part of SEMIS, schools take part in professional development. Honey Creek’s calendar included two professional development days for their teachers this spring. Lowenstein says, “Building on strengths is part of SEMIS' asset-based approach to coalition building and school change.” He adds, “The Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition is purposefully designed to help schools like Honey Creek and AALC build on their strengths, take their teaching to a whole new level, and help them sustain this deep work over time.”
The Crazy Wisdom Community Journal • May - August 2012 • Page 69
SEMIS also offers an annual Summer Institute for teachers. Each summer focuses on an ecological theme and providing opportunities for cultural-ecological analysis, project planning, and community action. 2011’s theme was “Detroit as Our Place: Ecological, Economic & Historical Stories.” Part of the 2011 Summer Institute involved a bus tour of Detroit that included the point of view of the plants and the buildings as place markers in history and the story they tell. Waters says the success of Detroit is in many ways tied to the success of Michigan, and he praises the initiatives (gardens, open waterways, and sustainable communities) that other communities can learn from Detroit. Thompson says, “The SEMIS Summer Institute was a very powerful experience.” Building the Coalition Detroit is important for all SEMIS students and teachers, including those who live outside of Detroit. Attendance at Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit (GLBD) is an annual event for SEMIS schools. In October, for the second year in a row, Marissa Kowalczuk took a group of AALC students to GLBD. Bioneers seeks innovative approaches to environmental and social challenges. The organization believes that building connections between people who share a commitment to solving these issues can transform communities.
“I leave any SEMIS time refreshed and motivated to make every teaching moment loaded with the deepest impact it can have.” – Johnny Thompson, a 4th/5th grade teacher at Honey Creek Marchyok credits SEMIS’ director Lowenstein with being “a really great community builder.” Waters says Lowenstein is “very energetic and enthusiastic. He has the ability to see connections and the potential for connections that would not be apparent.” Magos appreciates Lowenstein for being “empathetic, listening to any idea…and pushing us to think more deeply.” Martusewicz, who helped develop SEMIS, is still very involved and provides important teaching about the social justice point of view. Marchyok says, “We all have a voice. We all have needs. No one’s needs are more important. The more people who take that perspective of nature, the less likely we are to take it over and dominate it.” Future Lowenstein describes the work of SEMIS as “preparing the soil and bringing people together in a coalition” without knowing what the results will be. He says that as he thinks about the future of AALC and Honey Creek, “I can’t predict what will happen, but I know it will be amazing.” His enthusiasm is matched by the teachers and students involved with SEMIS. There are many students who share AALC student Andrew Vincent’s perspective about the importance and fun of learning more about the environment. Vincent says it important to study the environment, “because it makes you know more about your world,” and he says, “It's fun!” Thompson sums her feelings about SEMIS experiences. She says, “I leave any SEMIS time refreshed and motivated to make every teaching moment loaded with the deepest impact it can have.” ### This is a critical time for the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition as the coalition continues to grow. Find out how to get involved and support SEMIS and see portfolios for previous projects at semiscoalition.org.