Mighty Acorns Celebrates 20 Years Teaching Kids About Nature
It’s been 20 years since The Conservation Foundation’s partnership with the Mighty Acorns program began at Currier Elementary School in West Chicago in the fall of 1998.
Since then, nearly 10,000 kids in Kane, DuPage, and LaSalle counties have learned how to collect prairie seeds, plant acorns and hickory nuts, identify tree leaves, remove invasive plants, and even study poop — or scat — found on trails to identify local species and what they eat.
Teachers Suzan Avila and Anna Leuer recently headed out again to the adjacent Blackwell Forest Preserve with Currier students to gather and plant seeds for a hands-on learning experience as they both did 20 years ago when the program first began.
The accidental discovery of a woolly bear caterpillar created much excitement as the students carefully handed it off and watched it inch its way across their hands before placing it safely back on a twig.
These kinds of unexpected discoveries are what learning, and just being, outdoors can bring to these students.
“One of the most gratifying things for me is seeing kids light up when they discover an interesting plant or animal on their own during our explorations,” Carolyn Wagner, TCF’s Mighty Acorns program coordinator, said.
Wagner has been presenting Mighty Acorns to students since the program started two decades ago and said about 1,150 children in 47 different classes will be reached through the outdoor education program this fall alone.
Some of the students struggle in school or have little access to natural areas at home. Mighty Acorns gets these children outside in nature and allows them to participate in conservation projects in their local communities.
The Mighty Acorns program started in 1993 by The Nature Conservancy for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students and is now shared with numerous partners across the region to teach environmental biodiversity and stewardship of land and water resources.
In Kane and DuPage counties, TCF’s Mighty Acorns program is offered at two area Boys & Girls Clubs, two park districts and six schools including Wegner School in West Chicago for 15 years, Johnson School in Warrenville for 11 years, and Hillcrest School in Elgin for six years.
The program has been supported by the Forest Preserve Districts of Kane and DuPage counties, and also has been expanded in Ottawa where students explore TCF’s Dayton Bluffs Preserve.
These long-time relationships with schools, park districts, and forest preserve districts speaks to the strength of the Mighty Acorns program, the passion of the environmental educators, and TCF’s collaborative conservation partnerships in local communities.
The Conservation Foundation is one of the region’s oldest and largest not-for-profit land and watershed conservation organizations, with more than 4,000 members. Founded in 1972, TCF has helped preserve more than 35,000 acres of open space, restored and cleaned miles of rivers and streams, and educated thousands of kids by engaging them in nature and the outdoors.
TCF’s mission is to improve the health of our communities by preserving and restoring natural areas and open space, protecting rivers and watersheds, and promoting stewardship of our environment.
Work is focused in DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will Counties to preserve and restore nature in your neighborhood. Find out more at theconservationfoundation.org.
FEATURE PHOTO CAPTION: Students from Currier School in West Chicago head out to the prairie at Blackwell Forest Preserve, adjacent to their school for a Mighty Acorns nature education class. Currier has been offering The Conservation Foundation’s Mighty Acorns program for 20 years.