Urban Education at Riveredge Nature Center
Children today are spending less time outdoors, despite studies that support benefits to time spent in nature. Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) students score significantly lower (20.8%) in science than the statewide average (49.7%). Further, urban areas are increasingly losing green space. As a result, access to and comfortability with natural resources may inhibit Milwaukee area students from learning about science in natural environments. Through urban education programs at Riveredge, such as River Connection and the LUMIN partnership, Riveredge provides thousands of students the chance to learn hands-on in nature.
“I got to get my hands dirty”
Beginning in 2011, Riveredge partnered with Lutheran Urban Mission Initiative (LUMIN) schools to provide access to field-based environmental education for urban youth enrolled in LUMIN schools. Students travel to Riveredge for on-site programming paired with lessons in their classrooms. Regular collaboration with teachers, administrators, and curriculum specialists informs Riveredge to adapt programming to best meet the needs of the students while providing relevant experiences to support grade level curriculum.
“I learned about the river and how to help nature”
Following the 2017-18 school year, Riveredge evaluation staff found that LUMIN students that participated in the program are more likely to explore new places and things in nature (27% increase). The LUMIN partnership brings an average of 1,000 pre-school through 8th grade students to Riveredge every year.
“It was scary but fun.”
It’s natural to fear that which we have little experience. For many children, nature can be an intimidating if they have little or no familiarity with the natural world. The LUMIN partnership brings several classes from Milwaukee to the Milwaukee River and Riveredge’s natural sanctuary to participate in the River Connection program. The River Connection program was established in 1998 to provide socioeconomically disadvantaged children access to environmental educational experiences that would likely be unavailable to them otherwise. The River Connection Program is a collaborative undertaking of two well-respected environmental education organizations within the Greater Milwaukee area: Riveredge Nature Center and The Urban Ecology Center. This collaboration optimizes the opportunity for students to compare and contrast the rural Milwaukee River location of Riveredge Nature Center and the urban Milwaukee River location of the Urban Ecology Center.
“We got out into the country”
Results from the 2017-18 pre/post survey found that 94% of students said they learned something new about nature, 82% of students said they would like to do the day’s activities again, and 90% of students said they want to do more to help nature. These findings indicate students’ desire to learn about, explore in, and care for the environment. In fact, 75% of students had never visited Riveredge before the River Connection program, and 85% responded either “yes” or “maybe” when asked if they’d come back to Riveredge again. The River Connection program provides impactful environmental education experiences for an average of 700 5th grade students each year.
“I loved the field trip so much!”
By expanding the science curriculum, the River Connection program and LUMIN partnership is fostering greater awareness in both students and teachers of the roles they play in nature. Exposure to both nature centers provides a broad portrait of Wisconsin’s natural landscape, illuminating the rural (Riveredge) and the urban (UEC). This diversity in exposure is critical, in both enhancing the learning experience through comparison and opening new doors to nature that students may not have considered before.
“I learned about the river and how to take care of it.”
This is just a small handful of stories collected from the thousands of students who have been impacted by urban education at Riveredge.
Riveredge subsidizes these programs to offset the costs for schools, but we cannot do it alone. With your help, thousands of kids can continue to get their hands dirty, learn about nature, and discover the interconnectedness of life. Together, we can foster the next generation of nature stewards to care for the bountiful natural resources of southeast Wisconsin.