By Tanya Parish
How can we provide our children with educational experiences that help them to make connections to our fragile planet, all living things, and to their direct role in creating a sustainable future? Local teachers, students, youth groups and families are making connections by participating in the Annual Bidwell Park & Creeks Cleanup on Saturday September 20th.
This event is a unique opportunity for older children and young adults to participate directly in the sustainability and stewardship of their community. According to Butte Environmental Council, the creeks of Chico provide essential habitat to a number of riparian species of northern California, including threatened and endangered species such as winter and spring run Chinook salmon, California tiger salamander, California red-legged frog, bald eagle, western yellow-billed cuckoo, Swainson’s hawk and bank swallow. By improving the riparian habitat of Chico, we ensure the continued presence of these species for future generations.
Eric Parish is a local Montessori teacher. He takes his class to Bidwell Park regularly as an opportunity to give the children an abundance of resources for conducting plant and animal research. The interconnectedness of, and respect for all living things is a cornerstone of the Montessori environment and curriculum. It is also a key component in California’s Next Generation Science Standards that are rolling out in all public schools this Fall.
As students like Eric’s, participate in community events like The Bidwell Park & Creeks Cleanup, they are gaining an awareness of civic duty and community participation, as well as compassion for and awareness of the local homeless population. In a lecture given to the Sixth International Montessori Congress, Education and Peace, Maria Montessori proclaimed, “It is absolutely certain that the secret of future human power lies within humanity as it develops – within young people”(1947, p. 37).
The Bidwell Park & Creeks Cleanup organized by Butte Environmental Council since 1986 has resulted in the removal of thousands of pounds of garbage and recyclables from Chico’s creeks by community volunteers. BEC records show the volume of material collected is amazing, though the type of material is what causes great concern. Past cleanups have recovered large metal items such as microwave ovens, computers, portions of automobiles, car batteries, swamp coolers and other potentially toxic items leaching into the creek beds as well as furniture, mattresses, clothing, toys, and numerous tires. These items were not only blocking significant portions of the creek, but many of them contained possible toxins such as oils, heavy metals, coolants and other petroleum products. With this clean up, as many items as possible are removed from the creeks, significantly improving the general water quality and habitats within the park and creeks.
For older children and young adults to see firsthand the amount of trash and debris that is being recovered and to participate in its removal, is an experience that provides them an opportunity to directly impact their future and the future of others, in a positive way.
To provide children with this type of internalization offers a deeper respect for the subjects of their study within the classroom. Their experience creates a direct connection to the world around them. It also allows for new connections. Nani Teves has been participating in the cleanup with her children for many years. “My kids make connections that I never thought they would. Because they have picked up so many cigarette butts while doing the cleanup – they now see how disgusting smoking can be.”
Environmental educators continue to emphasize the idea that children are the very elements that may either create or destroy this delicate planet. As educators and parents, we hold in our hands the potential to give children the tools and to provide the experiences they need to solve the current and very critical dilemma of maintaining a sustainable community and planet. As 10yr old Maile puts it, “I like to pick up garbage at my favorite swim holes, because then when I go there again it’s clean and I don’t have to see the garbage and then other people don’t need to see it either.” You can register your group to participate in The Bidwell Park & Creeks cleanup by contacting The Butte Environmental Council at 891-6424 or by visiting their website www.becnet.org