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STEM: Learning outside the room

Honey Creek restoration teaches kids in WILD

March 14, 2012

Wauwatosa STEM Principal Michael Leach said his school has a "no child left inside" policy.

That explains why 72 students from kindergarten through fourth grade are about to embark on a project that is designed to teach them the importance of reaching out into their own community to make a difference.

Going W.I.L.D.

The charter school within Wilson Elementary is kicking off W.I.L.D. - Wauwatosa is Learning Differently - to assist a major, multi-governmental effort to develop a new retention wall along nearby Honey Creek Parkway that will enhance water access to the area and help revitalize plants and wildlife.

Along the way, students will contribute their observations and problem-solving skills to professionals like Jim Ciha, a landscape architect with Milwaukee County Parks.

The initial project will include five components, including native plant restoration, retaining-wall reconstruction, park and walk site mapping, science and career investigation and overall reflection.

Ciha, a 30-year parks veteran, is donating his time to the school portion of the project. He kicked off the program Monday with an orientation to three sets of combined grade groups of students. He explained the program details of all the work that is involved, answered questions and helped students get the feel of how to construct a playground with a hands-on exercise using toys.

A first-hand look

On March 26, Ciiha and Leach will lead the students on a field trip to see the area first hand and begin their study and input.

"We really want you to go out there and help identify the plants for us,." Ciha told the students. "This will really help us with this project."

Ciha also explained to the youngsters that their work will help revitalize the area so that their children may be able to enjoy the wildlife, including fish that have long disappeared.

Problem solving

Ciha and Leach said the process of going through the project is designed to help students go through problem solving steps based a spectrum of facts of the landscape and the goals of the project.

"We will introduce a number of professionals such as landscape artists, botanists and engineers," Ciha said. "We hope to give them a feel for what all these professionals do."

Leach said the project, as well as the school, is a way to students to connect with their environment.

"The whole idea of the school is to give students an appreciation of the world around them," Leach said.

Beyond the student's initial involvement, W.I.L.D. hopes to eventually build an environmental classroom supported by funds from grant requests including those to Harley-Davidson and the Education Foundation of Wisconsin.

Project partners

In addition to Milwaukee Public Parks, the project will include work from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District and the Federal Environmental Management Agency.

The mission of the WSTEM charter school is "to provide an innovative and dynamic learning environment where students are encouraged to navigate their own course. Individual needs are met in a cooperative, supportive learning community through an engaging and challenging curriculum rooted the sciences, technology, engineering and math."

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