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Francis Sohn's Conservation-Restoration Draft Plan

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years ago


Prairie As An Educational Resource: Developing Prairie-Related Classroom Materials around the Indian Boundary Park Lagoon/Prairie


(At the bottom of this plan, I have directly answered the required eight questions separately, so as not to have to force the answers into my plan and to obviate the need for you to search laboriously for them in my terrible prose. Also note that this not so much to do with the plan I had in the outline, other than the location.)




Indian Boundary Park has a long history. Its name stems from a treaty signed in 1816 between the Pottawattomie Indians and the U.S. government.  Back then, it would have looked much differently than it did today – uncultivated, natural, wild, and free. It was first cultivated in 1834 by an Irish immigrant, Phillip Rogers, from whom the neighborhood takes its name.  Today the park serves as a nexus of culture and community for the diverse ethnic groups in the area; its field house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


In my own lifetime, remarkable progress has been made at the park, a place I loved playing at in my youth, be it in the wooden play area, vast to a child’s mind, or in the massive sprinkler on hot summer days.  Notably, the lagoon has gone from being enclosed by a scraggly wire fence to a more developed, naturalized area.  However wonderful a resource it is now, serving as a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, watching the birds, its educational possibilities remain underutilized. This plan is will describe goals to increase the quality and availability of educational resources for the existing lagoon/prairie area, and also put forth suggestions on how the area itself could be improved and expanded.


Personal Motivation

When I first approached this project, I approached it as an assignment, something I had to do. In the meantime, I got a job as a private tutor for two Chicago Public School students, and I was inspired by that in two ways. First, it saw that their knowledge of their own neighborhood is woefully inadequate, and second, I remembered the quality education I received from the same system in a different area of the city.  As a student in a gifted program, there was naturally more money and therefore a greater range of activities available to me as a student than at a regular neighborhood school.  I see this project, developing educational resources for community schools, as a way to give back to the community and help students get in touch with the history and ecology of a wonderful local park.  All of that said, there is a selfish reason I want to do this project as well; I want to see if I have any real talent for interacting in this way with grade school children, as a potential indicator of whether or not I should continue with my desire to teach.


Issues, Challenges, and Goals

As has already been stated, the quality of the lagoon/prairie area in the park has increased dramatically over the past 20 years.  As beautiful an area as it is, there remain challenges that prevent it from being fully exploited as the education resource it represents.  


A quick survey shows 10 public and charter grade schools within half an hour’s walk from the site, with perhaps 5 grade schools within quick reach by bus.  The park lagoon/prairie area could serve as a field area to help students put their natural sciences learning into action. I envision this happening primarily in two ways: resource-aided self-development of ecological knowledge, and hands on maintenance of the physical area under supervision.


Goal Set 1: Resource-Aided Self-Development of Ecological Knowledge

Under this goal set I have two sets of things in mind. The first involves the independent (ie done by me) development of a more detailed description of the natural life in the lagoon/prairie area of the park; the second involves the development of learning materials that could be integrated into the educational program of grade schools teaching ecology, biology, and even history.


Goal 1: Species Survey

Although there is already some signage in the area, it does not make clear whether or not the species list is exhaustive or partial, nor are there signs by specific plants to indicate their species.  Under this goal, I propose to do a simple survey of the area, starting with summer wildlife.  I would repeat this process during each season, so as to have a complete catalogue from which to develop education resources.  I propose to do this over the span of two weeks during each season, gathering information via site visits during the weeks and compiling it on weekends.


Goal 2: Creating Species Markers

The signage in the area, as already stated, is probably inadequate for school-based education use.  Once the species survey has been completed, I propose to make removable signage to mark plant species.  I intend them to be removable so that they could be integrated in a mobile way into an educational program that could be changed from year to year.  I would only compile information and photographs - design work would be handed over to a professional.


Goal 3: Create an “Indian Boundary Park Lagoon” Naturalist Guide

With this goal, I intend to do a comprehensive naturalist guide of the wildlife in the area with the survey information compiled, where possible using my own pictures.  I envision this as serving as a teacher’s resource for the education program.


Goal 4: Create an educational program: Worksheets, Assignments

Under this goal I have several things in mind.  The first is to develop a simplified version of the naturalist guide to serve as a basis for a “fill-in-the-blank” worksheet for students.  This could easily be integrated with internet research, ie using the internet to find scientific names.  I also want to develop basic prairie vocabulary worksheets. Furthermore, I would like to do more research into the history of the Indian tribes in the area and the agricultural development of the area, so as to be able to make the educational resources I would develop more multidiscipline/interdisciplinary.  I think this would make it easier to get the materials adopted by teachers.  This material will be developed in consultation with CPS teachers.


Goal Set 2: Expanding and improving the Lagoon Area

This set of goals is less defined in my mind as of yet, since I STILL have not been able to find anyone at the park capable of telling whom I should speak with to find out about specifics, but here it goes anyway.


Goal 1: Identify potential areas for expansion of the “natural” area

Right now, the “natural” area of the lagoon is completely fenced in.  I think this could potentially be a huge barrier to using it as an educational resource.  Of course, safety of the local marine life must be taken into account, as well as safety of students and the community at large visiting the site.  However, there are areas near the lagoon that are simply close-cropped green grass.  These could be converted into areas for prairie plants.  Under this goal, I propose simply to find out which of these areas could be used, and which, for reasons legal, regulatory, or otherwise, could not be.  Some of these areas would be ideal because there is already a path winding through them, obviating the need to cut new paths.


Goal 2: Plots for schools

After identifying which areas could be used for expansion, I would separate the area into lots for different schools to plant and maintain, so as to foster direct involvement with each school.  For this, I would very likely refer back to my high school AP Environmental Sciences teacher, who could put me into contact with people from whom I could purchase seeds and plugs, as well as get information from for which species to plant.



Specific Details

1.      What are the potential benefits of your plan?

The potential benefits are of two kinds. First, it will help me see whether or not I really want to go farther with teaching. Second, if it is successful, it will help grade school students get hands-on experience with ecology in a locally relevant way.


2.      What ecological principles and information underlies your plan?

The basic principle underlying my plan is that people need to understand the ecology of the natural systems around them to appreciate them.  By developing materials with which students can improve their knowledge of a real-world local example of what they might learn in class, I hope not only to increase their interest in ecology, but also to encourage them to local stewardship and a lifelong love of nature.


3.      What is the current state at the site?

The current site moderately well maintained.  However, the signage is bad and there is no opportunity to walk through the area as such.  It is definitely not a brown site, and even if I were not able to implement the second set of goals detailed above, it could still serve as a great education tool.


4.      Who owns/manages/uses the site and what are their needs or goals?

The site is currently owned and managed by the Chicago Park District. The signage is sponsored by ComEd, the local electric utility.


5.      What are the steps toward the ultimate goal?

I think the steps are pretty well outlined above, but the gist is to do a comprehensive species survey in the area as well as some historical research and to use these two things to develop educational resources.  The steps for the potential expansion of the restored area are less defined as yet, since I have not been able to find who the relevant authority with which I should speak regarding the matter.  Also see my Plan of action for more details on execution.


6.      How much will each part cost?

Since I envision doing the species survey myself, the work would not cost anything.  Results would all be posted online, and teacher could print and use them at their discretion. As for the potential restoration portion of my plan, when and if I finally get into contact with those at the CPD that can give me more detailed information, I would likely apply to ComEd for financial support for materials that would need to be purchased.  Although I will also be producing material for the new signs, I would hire a graphic designer to  put my pictures  and naturalist guide information into a presentale form for public signage.   Paying the graphic designer, at 160 dollars an hour for quality custom work, would be the only costs associated  with the first goal set, along with print production of the work, with which the designer will be able to furnish me.  For the second set of goals, I would need to find a volunteer ecologist to help students in maintaing their plots, someone with more knowledge than I to give them technical support.


7.      Who will do the work and how long will it take?

I would develop the materials largely alone.  As I have several friends currently working in the Chicago Public School system, I would consult them for suggestions for how the worksheets and potential projects could be oriented.  I would start developing the materials after finals, and complete the production of all the materials within a year for all seasons.  Again, as to the restoration portion of the plan, I cannot yet give further details, but I cannot imagine the entire process of planting taking more than two or three weekend sessions (or perhaps even done during the week as part of a field trip),  and maintenance would be ongoing.


8.      What will be the broader impact of your plan on the community?

This is the part of the plan about which I am most excited.  I think by getting local schools involved with an ecologically-oriented project, I could help to incite a greater interest in the youngest in the community in conservation and natural resource protection in general.


Original Presentation SlidesPrairie As An Educational Resource Class Presentation Slides.ppt


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