Finding urban nature


City parks provide free, easy classroom resource :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

photo courtesy of Erin Carlson Environmentalist Angie Dumas introduces sixth-graders to nature at Humboldt Park.

The sixth-graders spy a nervous duck on a nest of eggs near the edge of the pond in Humboldt Park. They stray from the trail, wanting to touch it-only to be gently admonished by nature guru Angie Dumas.

"All she wants to do is heat up some eggs, have some babies and live life," Dumas tells the students from Yates Elementary School.

"Hey, where's her husband? Where's her boyfriend?" asks Joshua Hernandez, 11, adding, "Probably cheating on her with another lady."

The students laugh, as does Dumas, 37, who taught at Chicago Public Schools for 12 years. She is now the leader of a trailblazing science program that uses urban parks as outdoor labs for students more familiar with city blocks than nature walks. Dumas hopes her work will inspire inner-city kids to learn about nature and keep their neighborhood parks clean while protecting the wildlife.

"This is their neighborhood park," she says. "We want them to value it as something beautiful in their neighborhood."

Dumas, a dedicated environmentalist with the "best job in the world," is on loan from Chicago schools as an environmental fellow for Exelon Corp., parent company of ComEd, which is helping to restore some of the city's parks, including Humboldt. She is in the middle of a three-year fellowship, part of a $1.5 million project sponsored by CPS, the Chicago Park District and Exelon. It is designed to create a hands-on learning experience in parks that once were dumping grounds for old TV sets, Dumas says.

At Humboldt Park, Dumas points out the flora and fauna. Along the way, she and the students pick up litter to "foster that sense of citizenship and ownership of their park."

She says city parks are untapped resources for teachers. They are a free way to teach inner-city students about science-especially if a school can't afford field trips. Because Dumas' term is temporary, she is offering workshops to teachers in 29 neighborhood schools so they can learn about nature and teach it to their students.

"I won't be here forever. I feel very strongly to teach [teachers] to fish, rather than give them a fish," she says. "I know if they're excited about it, their kids will be, too. I'm trying to spread my own thrill about urban nature through the teachers."


Erin Carlson, Medill News Service


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