Current Program
Program Components

ECO-ACT canoe tripThe ECO-ACT program is made up of several components, which span the course of eleven months, from June through May. These components are outlined below.

Summer Program
School Year Program
Outings
Environmental Projects

Summer Program
The ECO-ACT summer program consists of three weeks during which high school students investigate the urban and natural environments, and develop leadership skills. The first two weeks are offered twice, with approximately thirty students in each session. All participants attend the third and final week of the summer program simultaneously.

During week one, the students investigate the urban environment using public transportation to travel in small groups to interview local professionals working on a variety of urban environmental issues, such as air quality and solid waste management. In addition to interviewing experts on both sides of the issue they are investigating, groups utilize print and internet resources for further information. Finally, they must focus their project by writing research questions to be answered by a data collection project of their own design. The week culminates with a formal presentation by each team. In addition to research within the urban environment, the students spend the first night of this week on the Missouri Botanical Garden grounds. This initial “camp-out” provides a basis of experience for the next week of the summer, as the students set their own rules and consequences, and take responsibility for enforcing them.

ECO-ACT participants in tent.During week two, the focus changes to studying ecology. The first day is spent at Shaw Nature Reserve of the Missouri Botanical Garden (a 2,500 acre field site owned and operated by the Garden) engaging in water quality testing, nature observation and journaling, and wildlife identification skillbuilding. Further study ensues during a three-day canoeing and camping trip on the Meramec River. In addition to aquatic exploration, students learn to work as a team and develop outdoor living skills while canoeing and taking the responsibility for organizing their nightly camp sites, participating in nightly reflective discussions around the campfire, and cooking meals for the group. Students also gain experience and knowledge of Missouri’s geology and cave ecology by exploring an active wet cave along the river route.

The final week of the summer component of the program revolves around preparation for teaching responsibilities during the school year. During “ECO-WEEK,” teams of students plan and present an environmental science lesson to a group of their peers, who provide constructive feedback. There is also a series of workshops on topics such as lesson planning, classroom management, and learning styles to train the students as leaders in the elementary classroom.

Fourth-graders study animal tracks in mud on field trip lead by ECO-ACTorsSchool Year Program
During the school year, the high school students work in teaching teams of 3–4 students to teach ecology and environmental science concepts they learn through ECO-ACT to elementary school children. Each team teaches in one fourth-grade classroom of a designated local elementary school once each week throughout the school year, and leads those same students in two field study trips at the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center during the school year.

Students select and teach their lessons based on a set of activities provided by the program staff. Each team also receives a box of supplies required for the activities in each unit. Students write a lesson plan synopsis before teaching their lessons, which is submitted to program staff for review and grading. They are also responsible for an evaluation of each curriculum unit after it has been taught.

To support this major teaching effort, the students attend a workshop at the Missouri Botanical Garden each month where teaching techniques, science concepts, local environmental concerns, diversity issues, and leadership roles are the focus. Students’ teaching and leadership skills are evaluated throughout the year by the cooperating high school and fourth grade teachers as well as ECO-ACT program staff.

ECO-ACT participant on horsebackOutings
Continuing their own learning, ECO-ACT students select one of three weekend outings offered each semester in which to participate. These experiences on a high ropes course, rock climbing, backpacking, caving, canoeing, or orienteering provide opportunities for personal growth as well as enhanced experience in the outdoors for students who may or may not otherwise challenge themselves in these areas.

Environmental Projects
An additional component of the program is the Environmental Project. Based on their experience in week one of the summer training, students work in teams to complete a much more in-depth environmental project throughout the school year. This project, on a local environmental issue, incorporates the theory of IEEIA—Investigating and Evaluating Environmental Issues and Actions. Through this process, students identify, research, and make recommendations for action on a specific local environmental issue, and present their findings to their peers for critique.

In addition to these in-depth projects, each teaching team works to facilitate the development, initiation, and completion of an environmental action project along with their fourth-grade students, within the community of the elementary school. This work is the culmination of the year-long collaboration between the high school and elementary school students, and may address any environmental issue relevant to the particular community which is of particular importance to the students.
The Saigh Foundation ECO-ACT Environmental Leadership Program
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