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Review for Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors (ECO), Portland, OR, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

Ecology in the Classroom and Outdoors (ECO) is one of the extraordinary non-profit organizations working at the Southeast Portland school where I volunteer. The ECO staff impresses me with their knowledge and thoughtfulness, by their friendliness, enthusiasm and energy, and by the skill with which they work with students. But what I most appreciate are the ecology lessons that they teach. These lessons are important on multiple levels.

The lessons are important to students because they provide a hands-on introduction to the natural world and develop skills in observing, questioning, making predictions and gathering evidence to support predictions - skills that are at the core of science and central to critical thinking generally. Students learn first-hand about subtle interactions within and between natural systems. One example of such interaction occurs in the garden insectary. The insectary flowers attract bees and provide the bees with food in the form of nectar; the bees pollinate the garden plants producing fruits and vegetables that become our food

The lessons are important to the community because they include a component of community service. Just a few blocks from the school is creek where ECO takes students for field studies. Over the past century, the creek watershed has been degraded by human development, but is now part of a major restoration project that will reduce local flooding and restore the original natural watershed functions. As part of their field studies along the creek, ECO has students participate in the restoration by planting native trees, shrubs, and smaller plants along the creek banks and floodplains. The field study introduces students to a marvelous natural resource close to home that they can visit and explore outside of school, and invests students in their community through their contributions to local habitat restoration.

The lessons ECO teaches are important to the planet. The impact of climate change on human life is one of the critical issues of our time, but largely ignored by our country’s political leadership. Actions taken to reduce or turn back the effects of climate change will come through political decisions. Without a citizenry that sees itself as part of the natural world, that appreciates subtle interactions of natural systems, and is able to think critically about living in a sustainable manner, we will be trapped in the downward spiral set by our political leaders. ECO’s lessons help develop the informed citizens we need to stop the ongoing degradation of the planet.

ECO connects students to their natural world and develops their critical thinking skills. My hope is that ECO continues its programming in schools for the next 100 years and that 100,000 nonprofits teaching the principles of ecology, like ECO, blossom and flourish across the county.

Role:  Volunteer