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By Alison Ball
received an email from a friend: Contact Hotel Bruce. The focus of
their current issue is in Glenville, and one theme is ecological awareness
in the community. Here I am studying urban ecology in graduate school
and working on environmental outreach projects for the Dike 14 Environmental
Education Collaborative as a representative of the Cleveland Museum
of Natural History (CMNH). The Hotel Bruce folks were already in the
process of planning a day with some fifth and sixth graders at Charles
H. Lake Elementary School. This was a great opportunity for me to
introduce the students in Glenville to the wildlife in their neighborhood.
Slowly but surely, city dwellers are losing touch with nature and
the interconnectedness we share with plants and wildlife of the urban
area. In his 1993 book The Thunder Tree, author Robert Michael Pyle
defines this phenomenon as the extinction of experience. He writes,
“The extinction of experience is not just about losing the personal
benefits of nature. It implies a cycle of disaffectation that can
have disastrous consequences…apathy toward environmental concerns
and, inevitably further degradation of the common habitat.“
For Hotel Bruce, the outreach to Charles H. Lake was a multimedia
endeavor with the following objectives:
--> Increase environmental awareness for a small group of
Glenville's school kids
--> Improve our knowledge of how kids
respond to nature
--> Showcase the results of a dialogue
with the students focused on their environment so that others in the
community can respond to it
In order to create a connection to the natural world within the classroom,
I used specimens of skulls, skins, animal mounts, insects and plants
from the CMNH teaching collection. This met all of our goals: Visually
appealing as a showcase for Hotel Bruce and an unforgettable experience
for the students to learn about the nature that abounds in the Glenville
neighborhood, including the urban oasis of Dike 14. A naturalized
area, The Dike 14 Nature Preserve looks like a natural peninsula of
land jutting into Lake Erie north of Gordon State Park, but it is
really a manmade land structure built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Curious to see the reaction to the word “environment”,
we asked the students to brainstorm about their environment through
art and words on paper. Their pictures either identified a natural
landscape or a cityscape (a couple of pictures included both). Working
by themselves or in groups, the students highlighted trees, plants
and animals such as birds and butterflies. However certain students
included specific buildings such as a hospital and even McDonald’s.
One group identified the basketball courts, baseball diamonds and
playgrounds. Another group wrote down that it was everything that
surrounds them. We were moving toward the next step— identifying
with which plants or animals they shared their environment.
As they brainstormed and designed, the children began to open up and
explain what they included in their posters. One group of chuckling
boys identified the usual suspects of urban wildlife: Pigeons, dogs,
cats, and rats. Should they add that in to their picture, they asked?
It was up to them, I reminded them. Eventually we came to see that,
yes, a variety of wildlife and manmade structures surround them.
Afterwards, I ran an activity called “Habitat Habits”.
I gave them a specimen—a skull, an insect egg case, or even
an (taxidermy) animal common to Glenville. Then I gave them some extra
clues—the animal skins, the same bird in another plumage, or
the adult insect. The students were asked to identify the connections
to their environment based on descriptions of shelter, food, moisture,
light and temperature. Only one group identified their animal as finding
shelter in the city. Yet as we shared the information about all the
animals, other kids would speak up about how they have seen that snake
in their yard, that bird at a bird feeder, or that insect in the playground.
The animals and plants used for this activity are all highlighted
in the soon to be published Field Guide to the Dike 14 Nature Preserve.
I asked the students to fill out a questionnaire at the beginning
and when the “Habitat Habits” activity was complete to
determine if they were aware of natural or naturalized areas so close
to their school. We asked if they knew of environmental conservation
efforts in the city of Cleveland? We wrapped up by asking what new
information did you learn from this workshop? Here are a few of their
--> “I learned about lots of
animals that live here in Cleveland.”
--> “I learned a lot of things
like some butterflies are poison”
--> “I learned about animals
and their environments”
--> “That natural and naturalized
areas can be located near you.”
The city is more than just bricks and mortar, market economies and
industry; it is also a habitat for a wide variety of ecosystems. The
Dike 14 Nature Preserve is located 4.5 miles east of the Cuyahoga
River and less than a 1/2 mile from Charles H. Lake Elementary School,
enhancing the importance of the site’s educational significance
to the community in Glenville and the city at large. This site will
soon be opened to the public as one of Cleveland’s newest parks
where urban families can experience and appreciate the natural world.
Pyle, Robert Michael (1993) The Thunder Tree: Lessons
From An Urban
Wildland The Lyons Press, New York, New York pp.145-147
We’ll take you inside the studios, sketchbooks
and minds of Cleveland’s artists, writers, photographers,
R&D scientists, computer geeks, social workers, and more, for
a look at the new, sometimes unfinished work there. And we’ll
post calls for entry to emerging artists to display their work.