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In Illinois, wetland warriors restore habitats: middle-schoolers enlighten community while protecting threatened ecosystem.

Fran Wachter's science students are no slouches. Inspired by a fifth grade field trip to the Cache River Wetland, the students developed and began a restoration plan in sixth grade, advanced it in seventh grade and are now--as eighth-graders--ambassadors to younger students who will continue their legacy.

"The students saw they could make a difference, and people noticed it" said Wachter, who teaches middle school science at Creal Springs School in Illinois. "It reinforced that sometimes there are things in your life you can't control, but when you work as a group, you can really make a difference:'

And what a difference the students made, as they have been restoring and protecting the wetlands home to hundreds of endangered species. "Wetland Warriors: Restoring Health to Our Wetlands"won the 2011 Disney's Planet Challenge grand prize for middle schools.

"The kids loved everything about it." Wachter said."The harsher the conditions, the more they loved it. We went in January to do trail restoration and it was freezing, and they loved it. We were there in the heat and they came back and bragged to the other kids, 'We're so tough!"


With the help of the Nature Conservancy, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and a GK-12 graduate student from Southern Illinois University, the middle-schoolers took a multi-prong approach to their project.

They transplanted pickerelweed plants in the Cache River Wetland, built and posted nesting boxes to research brood parasitism in bird species, created more than 200 educational binders for local teachers, made and donated children's books to the community's Wetland Center, presented research at a science symposium, created a website and more.

Now in their last year at the tiny rural school, students have become mentors to the kids who will continue their work. "The restoration project is going to take decades" Wachter said. "I know these kids are going to take their families when they're grown and say 'That's the boardwalk we helped build. We planted the pickerelweed there'
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Title Annotation:Grand Prize Winner: Middle School Level
Publication:District Administration
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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