The University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum developed the Earth Partnership program to engage learners of all ages with nature. The program trains teachers to start restoration projects on school sites, where kids can create natural habitats. It also trains them to work the subject of restoration into their curricula.
A related initiative, the Latino Earth Partnership, reaches youth from diverse backgrounds by incorporating cultural perspectives and Spanish language with environmental stewardship and science. This summer, two UW-Madison undergraduates inspired by the program will lead a version of the Latino Earth Partnership in Quito, Ecuador.
Lauren Feierstein and Brenna O’Halloran had enrolled in the 2014 Latino Earth Partnership program, where they met Sarah Niesen, a third-grade teacher at Madison’s dual-language Nuestro Mundo Community School. The three worked together to develop a science curriculum around raising monarch butterflies in the classroom.
The monarch unit was a big success at Nuestro Mundo. Students previously uninterested in school couldn’t wait to get to class to see their caterpillars growing. Niesen worked with other UW service learning students to roll out additional projects at Nuestro Mundo, including a monarch-themed Día de los Muertos celebration, a science pen pal partnership with a Milwaukee dual-language school, and a 500-square-foot rain garden.
Waves of changes
Feierstein and O’Halloran were so enthusiastic about their experiences in Niesen’s classroom that they collaborated to bring Latino Earth Partnership to schools in Ecuador, where they studied in the spring. They received a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship to lead a weeklong training this month in Quito. Niesen will join them there to work with teachers and students.
“Taking the Latino Earth Partnership course has made learning more fun and engaging, made waves of changes in my classroom, and highly impacted our school for the better,” says Niesen. “I can’t wait to spread the knowledge I’ve gained through Latino Earth Partnership, not only in Madison and Milwaukee, but abroad as well.”
Each year, the Arboretum works with UW-Madison’s Adult Career and Special Student Services to help teachers from around the country become official UW-Madison students in the Earth Partnership program. For more information, contact the Arboretum at firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-263-7888.