CPS students get hands-on lessons in urban ecology

August 5, 2011 (CHICAGO)

When you think back to your summers as a kid, you probably can't say that you helped guard trees against damaging Emerald Ash Borers or that you plucked invasive species from the river to help keep our waterways clean. We found some young people who have been doing just that and more in their quest to "study green."

Some students are getting their feet wet in the area of urban ecology. They are learning about species that can invade our lakes and rivers and are testing water samples to measure pollution.

"I just like science in general. I've taken a liking to marine biology, some botany. But this has really expanded that even more," said Jovani Jones.

This is part of a Chicago Botanic Garden program called "Science First." It's a free program that's open to Chicago Public Schools students entering the eighth through tenth grades. High school juniors and seniors participate in a similar program called "College First."

"I want to be a horticulturist when I grow up so this is just the perfect opportunity for me to be here and experience different plants from different worlds that I would never see. Like we have a Japan bed and I probably will never go to Japan, but it's nice to be able to see plants and flowers from there," said Melissa Salazar.

Students were measuring the circumference of an Ash Tree to calculate how much carbon dioxide it can pull from the air. This will help predict the impact of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer.

"Let's face it, the planet is facing some problems and we need people from all walks of life solving the problem. It can't be the traditional scientist. So our big, long-term goal is to get some of these kids to go into science research and help save the planet," said Kathy Johnson.

"This year, I'm working with Sercium which is an endangered species in San Francisco," Shayla Hobbs said.

Shayla Hobbs is following the environmental path. She started in the high school program and is now working as a college research intern. The molecular cellular biology major says she feels proud to also be able serve as a mentor.

"I appreciate the experience, because where I'm from, the south side of Chicago, a lot of my friends and family members don't really understand exactly what I'm doing. So, to help someone who was in my position is really a great feeling," Hobbs said.

The Chicago Botanic Garden provides a bus from several locations around the city to provide transportation for the students. Most students also receive a small stipend. The program is funded primarily by private donations. For more information visit www.chicago-botanic.org.

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