April 20, 2010

Project will enhance environmental awareness

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill -- Participants in a Southern Illinois University Carbondale science education outreach program and local grocery stores are pairing up to bring an ecological message to area students.

With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day approaching on Thursday, April 22, graduate students in the Heart GK-12 program and area Kroger stores are putting reusable shopping bags into the hands of students throughout the region. The effort, which will touch eight local schools, is aimed at raising environmental awareness, organizers said.

The Kroger Co. is donating more than 350 of the reusable bags, which students at the eight schools on Wednesday and Thursday will decorate with eco-friendly messages and drawings. GK-12 participants will deliver the bags to the schools, with the students decorating and then returning the bags to GK-12 participants, who will then deliver them back to the stores. The bags -- newly decorated -- should be on sale by Thursday afternoon, said Andrew Podell, a former GK-12 fellow who currently works as a mobile educator for the program and who organized this week’s effort.

Podell said the effort improves on past efforts that used paper bags instead of the reusable ones. The effort is aimed at encouraging consumers to use reusable bags and fewer plastic bags while encouraging students to be creative and mindful of the environment.

“This is a great way to promote ecology,” said Podell, a graduate student from Fargo, N.D., who is finishing his master’s in geology. “It’s not only great for raising awareness about the environment, but also for education. And the kids will have a chance to see people in their local communities using the bags they’ve designed. It’s a fantastic experience for them”

The “heart” in Heart GK-12 stands for Heartland Ecological/Environmental Academic Research Training. The National Science Foundation has funded the fellowship program, which primarily targets underrepresented minorities in science.

Under the program, SIUC graduate students, under the direction of faculty advisers, work with area teachers and students to explore a wide and rich array of scientific experiences in ecological habitats. The program bridges the gap between the University and local schools by involving graduate students directly in ecological and environmental science curricula, as well as by mentoring high school teachers in the scientific research process

The program’s goals include increasing scientific literacy, improving teachers by providing them the opportunity for scientific research, and enhancing the long-term partnership between SIUC and area schools. The program is affiliated with the SIUC Center for Ecology and utilizes natural environments such as the SIUC Touch of Nature Environmental Center for research

The eight schools involved in the project are Anna Junior High School, Jefferson Elementary School in Marion, Creal Springs School, Carterville High School, Herrin High School, Unity Point School in Carbondale, Murphysboro High School, and General John A. Logan Attendance Center in Murphysboro.