By. Skylar L. Primm, Advisor/Lead Teacher at High Marq Environmental Charter School
A Midwestern analog to the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail winds through Wisconsin, roughly tracing the 1,000-mile edge of the last major glaciation of the state, around 10,000 years ago. One completed segment of the still-in-development trail winds through John Muir Memorial County Park in rural Marquette County. This park preserves the boyhood home of John Muir, which he memorably described in The Story of My Boyhood and Youth.
Students from High Marq Environmental Charter School in nearby Montello frequently visit John Muir Park to engage in place-based learning, education that uses the local community as its context. Past field experiences there have included ice fishing on Ennis Lake, a winter writing marathon inspired by Muir’s own words, and installing a “beaver baffle” to help the animals coexist peacefully with other park stakeholders. Recently, students and staff had the opportunity to perform hands-on trail maintenance work with local volunteers.
On a cold Thursday in February, High Marq students trudged across a frozen, snow-covered lake to reach the Ice Age Trail segment on the far side. A sledge carried their tools: loppers and bow saws, along with safety glasses and work gloves. The whole procession took a good half hour of shuffling to make it across. Once there, volunteers from the Ice Age Trail Alliance and Wisconsin Friends of John Muir explained the task at hand: to remove invasive plant species and thin out some of the nuisance shrubs and saplings that have sprung up along the trail, freeing up space for the oaks and native plants that thrived here in Muir’s time.
The students spent two full days on this project at the park, with additional support from the Marquette County Land & Water Conservation Department. Along the way, they clambered up and down hills, learned to safely cut down trees, and created imposing piles of brush that dwarfed anything the volunteers could have accomplished alone. They worked through the cold, snow, and rain that characterize the transition from winter to spring in Wisconsin, maintaining their focus on the task at hand. Ultimately, they transformed these overgrown spaces alongside the trail, creating a healthier ecosystem and a more buy ambien cr canada beautiful and enticing view for hikers.
Throughout their time on place-based projects like this one, students have many opportunities to practice the “4 Cs” of 21st Century Skills. They collaborate within and among field teams to assign jobs to each member, communicate to maintain a safe working environment, and use creativity and critical thinking to solve problems that inevitably arise in authentic work. They also develop a visceral understanding of the intensive challenges posed by invasive species control and ecological restoration, and why it might be best to take a proactive approach to habitat loss and invasive species rather than a reactive one.
On a less visible but equally important level, the students literally walk in the footsteps of John Muir, a giant in the United States conservation movement whose legacy is hard to overstate. His description of the land where the park now stands— “Oh that glorious Wisconsin wilderness!”—still resonates, and if our young people can learn to see their wild places in the same way today, they may yet work to protect them in the future.
The John Muir Memorial County Park/Ice Age National Scenic Trail project is a win-win-win for those involved. It is a win for the students, who gain environmental knowledge and working skills. It is a win for the environment, which is being restored to a healthier state. And it is a win for the community, which benefits from increased tourism and access to this beautiful and historic land. These win-win-win projects can be found in every school community, if we open our minds to what education can be.
Skylar L. Primm has only ever taught in project-based schools. Since 2011, he has served as co-lead teacher at High Marq Environmental Charter School in Montello, Wisconsin, where students in grades 7-12 engage with a curriculum focused on independent project-based learning, weekly environmental field experiences, and student democracy. Skylar was a fellow at the 2015 Greater Madison Writing Project Summer Institute, where he honed his passions for student reflection and teacher research. In 2017, he received a Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship in recognition of his teaching, leadership, and service. An erstwhile geologist, he much prefers teaching.
You can reach Skylar at email@example.com or by calling 608-297-2126 ext. 201