A Force for Good

"We can't just go out and throw seeds on the ground, we have to have a plan so we know what we're doing." —Jamela

Sixth grade students at Carrie Gosch Elementary School in East Chicago are eager to create change for their community. Their plan? A school garden that will teach fellow students about ecology, sustainability and healthy eating. The ambitious project is part of an innovative middle school program by the name of Earth Force.

Earth Force provides students an opportunity to work together to design and implement a project that explores root causes and addresses an issue that they care about in their school or community.  Projects are youth-driven and vary from group to group.  Past projects have included an informational video to encourage steps to mitigate climate change and writing and distributing a brochure on how to make non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning products.

As Earth Force students explore the environmental issue of their choosing, they learn leadership skills, conduct research, build strong community partnerships and make decisions as a democratic group. Guided by Dunes Learning Center outreach educators and classroom teacher, Linda Padilla, Carrie Gosh students decided that their project should include several aspects, including vegetable, butterfly and learning gardens. And that’s when the planning began in earnest.

"If we just go out and try and build a garden we might mess it up. We're doing this to make sure the measurements are right before we go out and build." —Damarion

Students decided they could get the whole school involved by collecting milk cartons to use as planters and encouraging each classroom to plant veggies and host a mini garden.  Designs include handmade garden stepping stones to create a walkway through the garden, as well as bird-houses and other landscape decorations. Milkweed and other butterfly friendly species will be planted in partnership with younger classmates as part of a lesson plan about monarch migration and the life cycle of the butterfly. Students agreed that the garden should be a space where teachers can take their classes and where they themselves can host mini-lessons to share their knowledge with younger students.

Last week, the garden started to come to life in the form of Lego models built to scale from plan drawings. Watch here for future updates.

Earth Force is part of a continuum of environmental literacy programs available to northwest Indiana classrooms thanks, in part, to funding by ArcelorMittal. Visit duneslearningcenter.org/outreach to learn more.