Edens Lost & Found: Building Sustainable Cities

" Mayor Daley
" Millennium Park
" Deb Perryman, Elgin High School
" Chicago Wilderness
" Eden Place

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Nurturing Tomorrow's Environmentalists

Deb Perryman, Illinois Teacher of the Year

Deb teaches at Elgin High School.

e're standing right next to school, this is Poplar Creek, it's a watershed, it goes straight into the Fox River, and basically what we do in class is we monitor this creek. Whatever's in this creek will go into the river, so if there's a lot of junk in the creek, it'll continue to pollute the river. Right now the Fox River is very polluted.

Kids are basically our future, they're going to be taking care of this world someday. We're working with kids right now so they'll understand when they're older, so they'll be able to do something when they see litter on the ground and when they see things changing, just nature deteriorating, hopefully they'll say hey, we've got to do something about this.

We were looking for some of the higher quality organisms, there's a tolerance rating for pollution from 1 to 11, 1 being the least tolerant, 11 being the most tolerant.

Stone flies -- we just found one in there -- they have a tolerance rate of 1.5, they are the least tolerant to pollution. So that means that Pobbler Creek is in good condition, if you can pull those out of there it's a very high quality creek.

This stretch of Poplar Creek from about half a mile up, all the way down to the Fox River is rated a B. It's just like in school -- A, B, C, D -- so we're rated a B, it's one of the highest there is. Upstream from us however is a D. That's rare; usually in creeks the high quality is up in the high waters, the low quality is down.

Why? It's a combination of things -- part of it is the bottom, it's a really rocky bottom here, that helps to oxygenate, as opposed to upstream, it's a lot of muck bottoms, and fewer high quality organisms prefer that kind of habitat. So we just make sure that we have people monitoring all along the creek, and looking for these critters, like stone flies, in order to establish how it really is.

'm Illinois Teacher of the Year, 2004. Well, wow, I was nominated by the district, several people sent in nominations, they select one person from each district to go on. I guess there were about 300 people, and then I was one of 12 finalists. I had to go down for an interview with the State Board of Education, and from that they picked me.

It's a national program, it's called Those Who Excel, and you just have to establish yourself as someone who has kids and has a program that goes above and beyond the normal classroom realm. To me though it's not going above because how do you teach environmental science inside?

I feel sorry for anyone in the nation who has to teach from four walls, I don't know how you can do it. Also I'm very blessed, I have an awesome community here, any time my students have wanted to do something for a project and they've hit a roadblock, the community has always come forward and helped us with supplies or money or chaperones or whatever we've needed.

Last year my students taught over 6,300 younger people, and we've stenciled now about 3,800 stencils throughout Pobbler Creek watershed about the storm drains.

he kids? They're incredible, I think about the kids who are here today -- they're seniors, they owe nothing to me, but they're here because they enjoy it and they believe in the program and it's exciting to see that.

It scares me to death to think that we expect all of these changes to take place, whether you're an individual, a school district, a community, we expect changes, yet people are not willing to become involved, and then we expect the next generation to feel invested in themselves and invested in the community, but we don't show them how to become involved, and so service learning and these kinds of projects are so imperative.

Maybe none of these kids will become wildlife biologists, but certainly they will be parents someday and they will be community members and they will be voters and I want them to get to know all those aspects of life, and to know it's not only okay to go talk to your mayor, you should go talk to your mayor.

A lot of our students are poverty and below and are non-native English speakers, and they don't want to come forward because they don't feel it's their right or their place or they have anything to say, so what's important to me is that my students, no matter what their standing is, no matter what their race is, whether or not English is their first language, I want them to know who the leaders are in their community and that they should become involved in their community and also talk to those leaders about what is important to them. They don't have to think what I think is important, but I want them to have that experience of actually going and talking to those people so that they can make change when it's their turn.

he Edens Lost & Found concept is very important, especially in an urbanized area, because we're losing it, we're losing our natural history very very quickly. Having these little pockets, although it's hard to sustain them and we have to sort of restore them and do a lot of work to maintain them, it's so important.

I went into the Field Museum and when you walk in there they have all these animals behind glass -- they have a seal, they have a lion. And then they have trees behind glass, that just scares me to death -- that that might be the future, that you want to see a forest, it's in an 8 x 10 room, behind glass, but it's life sized. I just I don't want that for my future, I don't think anybody wants that for their future.

We have so many decisions to make. It's so critical, and we have to make sure our young ones know that because we will lose it, we will lose all of it.

You know this is just 35 acres, these kids are scared to go into it because they're afraid they're going to get lost, but it's here, it's restoring our natural history, they're learning about their natural history. When they're driving around they say, "Oh that's an oak tree, that's blood root, that's our natural history."

They understand it because they've seen it and they've touched it.

One of the things I experienced while being here at Elgin High School, we were experiencing growing pains, and we needed more athletic fields, and the immediate response was to knock down our oak woodland to put in a soccer field. Fortunately I had a principal who believed in what I was doing and felt that the trees needed to be saved.

So as the district "suits" - as I call them -- as they came to see me and we walked around, I was telling them all these things, and they didn't care, they wanted a soccer field. But eventually after talking to them and really educating them on what we have here, it's no longer in danger. It's now called the "outdoor nature trail" and "outdoor classroom," and it's a district resource forever and ever, and so this will never be lost, and that I feel very wonderful about because that was something I did.

I'm living my dream, how many people get to live their dream?

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