Twenty-two members of The Prairie School’s Wilderness & Sustainability Club spent several hours in Cliffside Park in Racine County on Sunday afternoon, October 5, learning firsthand about the need to protect the environment, picking up litter, and beautifying the area. The school officially adopted the park several years ago in a county program and the student-led Club has been helping local officials take care of Cliffside ever since.
It is all part of Prairie’s experiential approach to learning.
According to Dr. Rebecca Wheeler, the Wilderness & Sustainability Club faculty co-sponsor, “the learning from an activity such as the Cliffside Park cleanup is very direct. By observation, students realize the degree of erosion the cliffs are experiencing, the way wave action throws debris on the beach, and the types of trash that persist and will never biodegrade. Students also change as consumers after they handle garbage that ends up on the beach or in the creeks. Someone who has picked up dozens of pieces of styrofoam will think twice about using foam plates at a picnic or buying coffee in a take-out cup. The students learn exactly what happens to such trash – it never goes away.”
Sunday’s park cleanup also helped to build and enhance the Prairie students’ social consciousness in at least two critical ways. First, the learning went beyond environmentalism to become sociological as well. After finding a partially-hidden tent that was evidently the shelter of a homeless person, the kids discussed the situation and the plight of the homeless, then picked up the various items and possessions scattered about and put them inside the tent to be safe from rain.
Second, the students’ muddy boots at the end of the day helped them to learn that one has to be the change one desires to see in the world. Each student came to realize that litter begets litter – i.e., people feel free to be sloppy if they see garbage and debris lying around, but are less likely to disregard the environment in an area that is clean, tidy, and respectfully maintained.
One of the organizers of the event, Prairie student Tasha Saxena, commented, “The Wilderness & Sustainability Club helps give my fellow students and me the opportunity to learn about and improve our local environment and, in a bigger sense, the global ecosystem overall. The Cliffside Park clean- up on Sunday was a fun experience – a 3-hour hike that involved cleaning up what is really a beautiful park along the way!”
Due to Prairie’s Wilderness & Sustainability Club’s efforts, visitors to Cliffside Park’s beaches, trails, and play equipment will notice the autumn leaves, rocky creeks, sandy beaches, and pastoral surroundings — (temporarily) untarnished by human waste.