Sustainability Institute for Educators — Celebrating “The Joy of Nature”

Ben Freiman

By Ben Freiman, Missouri Green Schools AmeriCorps VISTA

The Sustainability Institute for Educators returns to onsite programming in the St. Louis area this year on June 20 and 21, 2022 with the theme of “The Joy of Nature”. This two-day event which is designed for K-12 and informal educators from all roles and environments will center the healing power of nature and hands-on experiential learning in the outdoors.

The new Anne O’C. Albrecht Nature Playscape at Forest Park will serve as the first host site. Staff from Forest Park Forever will lead two tours, one tour on plants and animals and the other on history and design. During each tour, joy-based activities will be led by the Forest Park Forever staff. Groups will then come back together and explore the cycle of life as a group.

Participants will be invited to the Gateway Arch National Park, one of six national parks in Missouri. At this site, attendees will be challenged to think about who our public spaces belong to, and which uses of these spaces are appropriate or inappropriate from social and ecological perspectives.  Participants will also receive training on the Marine Debris Tracking App, a Morgan Stanley-powered tool created with National Geographic, the University of Georgia, and NOAA. The app can be used to empower students to take action in their local community, and the group will discuss how the importance of place and global citizenship intersect with the site and activities. 

Little Creek Nature Area will host the group next. Little Creek is a 97-acre outdoor space operated by the Ferguson-Florissant School District that has allowed students and teachers access to an outdoor class space for almost 50 years. Participants will have the choice to either partake in a pond exploration activity, wading into the Discovery Pond and exploring the life present there, or in a box turtle tracking activity, going off-trail in a forested area while trying to find tagged box turtles. Both experiences will highlight systems thinking and how interconnectedness informs sustainability.

Finally, the group will visit EarthDance Farms, a 14-acre active farm which serves as a model of sustainable food production. Participants will learn about the history of EarthDance, acknowledging the indigenous peoples who were the initial stewards of the land before it became EarthDance. The visit will include a tour of the rain garden and the “7-Generations” garden, discussing permaculture, water management, soil health, greenhouses, high tunnels, and composting. Cross-curricular project ideas and gardening-based activities will be discussed for educators to share with their students. The importance of building local food systems to support communities, as well as the health of students and communities, will be the focus of this site.

The Sustainability Institute for Educators is entering its 12th year, and is co-hosted by Webster University, Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis Zoo, USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter, MICDS, Missouri Environmental Education Association, Madison County Green Schools Program, and Saint Louis County Department of Public Health Registration for both days is $75, with scholarships available to teachers and administrators. Graduate credit is available through Webster University for an additional fee. Find out more at www.webster.edu/sie.