Chain O’ Lakes students learn about the environment
By Angie Landsverk
The environment became the classroom for Chain O’ Lakes Elementary students when the school held its 20th annual Chain Environmental Day on May 28.
On that day, groups of students circulated from one outdoor environmental education center to another.
“We are so proud to be celebrating the 20th annual Chain Environmental Day,” said Principal Rhonda Hare.
It was Mary Kaye Ristow who brought the idea to the school.
She teaches second grade at the Chain School and came up with the idea when she taught at Washington School, in Wisconsin Rapids.
It was part of her master’s project in environmental education.
Ristow created a school-wide Environmental Day at that school and then organized the Chain School’s first Environmental Day when she began teaching at it.
The volunteers from throughout the community make the day a success, she said.
“We have had foresters, people from the DNR, people with biology, fishery and horticulture degrees, farmers and other outdoor experts and a storyteller,” Ristow said. “They share their expertise with our students and are able to excite the students about their specialty.”
For Neil Wenberg, this marked his third year volunteering at Chain Environmental Day.
He has degrees in biology and chemistry, as well as a master’s in horticulture.
This year, Wenberg talked to the students about dandelions.
“The principal here understands the importance of having environmental education in the classroom,” he said.
Susan Davenport, the school’s former principal, felt the same way and now returns to the school each year as a volunteer.
The eight groups of students went to teachers and community members for 45-minute lessons.
Kindergartners, first graders and second graders were mixed in each group.
This year, Betty Manion, a storyteller and Waupaca School Board member, participated for the first time after observing the program last year.
“They did a great job,” she said as the students in her group removed the hats which were part of their costumes for “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears” by Verna Aardema.
Manion also shared an environmental story called “The Great Kapok Tree: Tale of the Amazon Forest” by Lynne Cherry.
“I think it’s incredible. They learn so many different things,” Manion said of the school’s Environmental Day.
Ristow said the Chain School is fortunate to have the natural resources of a woods, nature trail and pier on Silver Lake all nearby.
“She (Ristow) realized this campus was perfectly conducive to environmental education,” Hare said. “Every year, we get great returning volunteers and recruit new ones. They all have a passion for environmental education.”
As first grader Cayden Hansen stood on Silver Lake’s pier holding a branch, he watched a critter crawl on one of the leaves and said he was having a fun day.
Ristow said her goal is that the day allows children to interact with their local outdoor surroundings and learn things that may not be possible in the classroom or on a one-day field trip.
“A lofty goal is that the students learn an awareness and appreciation of the environment,” she said.
The Chain School ended Environmental Day with PreK graduation and a presentation of “The Lorax” by the second graders.