Habitat Heroes

Post by Jen Berlinghof

girls&garlic mustard

A group of third-graders from May Whitney Elementary School in Lake Zurich has come to the rescue at Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve. Instead of learning their science standards solely in the classroom, Mrs. Hosteland’s class is addressing an authentic environmental issue through investigation, research and collaborative reports that offer solutions to address the issue of invasive species. These hardworking 8- and 9-year-olds then presented their reports to the District 95 School Board and Lake County Forest Preserve officials.

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The culmination of their projects is to act on their solutions by pulling an invasive species, garlic mustard, at a nearby forest preserve. It was a clear, chilly morning as the students scrambled out of the bus, eager to get to work.

Students had learned through their studies that garlic mustard is a plant that originated in Europe and was brought to the United States by early settlers. They also know that this plant grows voraciously, crowding out more beneficial native wildflowers. Garlic mustard is manually pulled from the ground, roots and all, to make space for native species that will attract native pollinators and other animals.


After a short tutorial by Shante’ Kee, a volunteer steward of the site, on proper identification and removal techniques, the kids were off to the woods. Each child was chattering away about who would pull the most, the biggest; sounds of healthy competition growing amongst the calls of eastern bluebirds and kingbirds.


As the students got to work, they found critters in the soil. One group of boys worked to move “cute” (their words) spiders and worms, so they didn’t get trampled or plunked into the collecting buckets accidentally.

Another group found a caterpillar, which sparked a conversation about raising butterflies, fostering ant farms in earlier classes, and anticipating a snail project that they will complete next year. They talked about how this is their favorite project of the year, because they get to be outside and help wildlife habitat—all while diligently plucking the invasive plants and quickly filling buckets.


As these enthusiastic conversations pinged around the forest, the energy of these kids ricocheted as well. It was clear that this short visit had become so much more than a mission to pull garlic mustard. All synapses were firing in these kids, and the authentic learning was palpable.


The day seemed to end too quickly for everyone. Before we knew it, we had filled our garbage bags to the brim and even managed to remove an old tire from the woods. While short on time, this work day was big on inspiration.


As they headed back to the bus, students asked about when they could come back, bring others, help more. Are you inspired by these kids? If so, (and it’s hard not to be) come lend a hand at one of our many volunteer work days. Play a part in making the Lake County Forest Preserves healthier for the species that call northeastern Illinois home.

Are you a teacher and want your students to be “Habitat Heroes,” too? Visit the LCFPD Education page for a full list of field trips.

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