Chicago Zoological Society

For a Better World: Young Conservationists Making a Difference 




Share |
Posted: 8/19/2011 12:11:20 PM by Deb Kutska

 The Chicago Wilderness alliance was represented by five emerging leaders in regional conservation at the 2011 Outdoor Nation Youth Summit, July 15-17 in Minneapolis, MN. The Summit brought together more than 100 youth from across the Midwest to discuss challenges and opportunities, and develop action plans to get more young people outside. The participants voted on the best ideas and the winners received a grant of $2,500 from Outdoor Nation. Outdoor Nation is an initiative of The Outdoor Foundation, and the Summit was presented by The North Face, REI Foundation, and The Conservation Fund.

One of the four winning projects at the Minneapolis Summit was co-developed by several Chicago Wilderness representatives. The project involves connecting high school youth with the outdoors through experiences facilitated by college students who are passionate about the environment, confident in their abilities, and able to mentor their younger peers. Catherine Game (Chicago Department of the Environment) and John Cawood (Elmhurst Park District) will coordinate the evaluation component of the multi-state project, while Edward Warden (
University of Chicago) will serve as the project's Illinois Coordinator.

Reflecting on her
Summit experience, Mia Bryan (NorthCentralCollege) saw it as "very inspirational. Not only was it an opportunity to become acquainted with young leaders in environmental stewardship, but also an open and secure environment for critical thinking on the problem of getting more youth outside. Participants left feeling that they weren't just the future; they were the present and had the capabilities to make change there and then."  


Article originally published in the Chicago Wilderness August Issue of the Education and Leave No Child Inside Newletter. Courtesy of Emilian Geczi ( 

Comments: 0 comments

Posted: 3/17/2011 11:35:42 AM by Deb Kutska
Fox River Country Day School has a ton of opportunities to keep their students in touch with nature.  Check out this great group of youth who are making a difference for the environment in their community!

Stewardship Crew (Stew Crew) is an award-winning, hands-on service learning program where students have the opportunity to care for the earth through direct action that fosters individual responsibility and benefits the school community. The program is designed for middle school students and is one of three elective courses from which they can choose. Students meet before lunch four times per week for 50 minutes to join the environmental science teacher in the woods that surround the school campus. 
Students work together to remove invasive plant species, collect and sow seeds from native plants, and build and maintain trails throughout the school’s property. Not only does this activity help the school ecologically, it also beautifies the landscape and provides other classes with a living laboratory for environmental education learning opportunities. This program builds character, confidence, and teamwork in students and leads them toward success by teaching them that each individual has the power and ability to make the world a better place.

Post submitted by
Mike Raczyla, Fox River Country Day School
Comments: 0 comments

Posted: 3/9/2011 3:22:43 PM by Deb Kutska

Check out some great shots of the Elefun Weekend in Okavango through Elephants for Africa! Details about the event are in the previous blog post from this month! (All photos courtesy of Kate Evans, Elephants for Africa.)

Kate training students on use of radio telemetry equipment



The Elefun training/education team.


Up close encounters with elephants at the Abu Camp.


An unforgettable experience!

Comments: 0 comments

Posted: 3/3/2011 3:30:51 PM by Deb Kutska

          After long discussions and lots of planning 4th February saw the start of the first ever Elephants For Africa Elefun weekend. Elephants For Africa (EfA) has wanted to start working with the children of local communities [in Botswana] for some time, but haven’t had the funding to employ someone with the appropriate skills to liaise with the education department, schools and communities to turn this into reality. In 2010 we had the idea of approaching Children in the Wilderness, an existing non-profit organisation, which is already working with local schools and communities. Working together, we developed the concept for the Elefun weekends and won the sponsorship from Elephant Back Safaris, Passage to Africa and Kavango Air.
            Upon arrival we held a session where the children were asked to tell us what they knew and thought of elephants, the general theme was fear and hatred that elephants were vindictive and would kill anyone they see. The Team had many fears, barriers and misconceptions to overcome. Many of these children’s families are subsistence farmers and so crop raiding is a major issue in their areas. This weekend was an opportunity for children to see elephants in a different light, learn about their needs and their importance to Botswana’s ecology and economy.
The whole weekend was focused on elephants, highlighted by the opportunity to meet elephants up close and personal at the Abu Camp. At the beginning many of the children would not get off the car, but curiosity got the better of them when Cathy, the matriarch, stood there placidly as the mahouts told them about how elephanst have evolved to fill a role in the ecosystem. All students then wanted their photograph taken with her.
The children left with knowledge to make informed decisions about elephants and we were left a little empty hearted as these children had made such an impression on us all in the short time they were with us.
This could not have been achieved without the talent of the CITW staff, the hard work of all the staff at Seba Camp and our sponsors, Elephant Back Safaris, Passage to Africa and Kavango Air.
Elephants For Africa is a registered UK charity dedicated to elephant conservation through research and education. Based in WMA NG26 in the Okavango Delta Botswana and has been conducting research on elephants since 2002 and also operates a range of educational projects including the Boyce-Zero Scholarship for Motswana students.
  Photos coming soon!!
Submission by Kate Evans, Elephants for Africa
Comments: 0 comments

Posted: 1/27/2011 5:44:15 PM by Deb Kutska
Twenty Center for Conservation Leadership students spent Saturday, January 8, 2011 at the Shedd Aquarium. The students listened as the Shedd’s VP of Design, Bryan Schuetze, explained and demonstrated the process of exhibit design. Colby Mitchell and Domonique Isaac, directors of the Shedd’s Semester in the Great Lakes Program, charged the students with the task of conceiving and designing an interactive exhibit at the Shedd centered around a conservation issue.
The students explored the Shedd’s exhibits with a new perspective – what visitors want to see and how best to design an exhibit to incorporate learning, enjoyment and ambience. Collaborating with the Shedd’s Semester in the Great Lakes Program students, the students worked in groups using technology and other art materials as they developed their project ideas into models.
The students came up with exhibits geared toward educating the public on ocean garbage, recycling of cell phones, and an interactive redesign of the local waters exhibit. Bryan admired the creativity and relevance of the student ideas and suggested that he might use some of these in planning future exhibits. All came away with a very different and deeper appreciation of museum exhibits!
Post submitted by Susie Hoffman, Lake Forest Open Lands Association
Comments: 0 comments

Posted: 12/27/2010 5:07:45 PM by Deb Kutska
Participants from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's TEENS program have had a busy fall engaging their peers and their communities in conservation!  Check out some of their hard work below!

TEENS participated in the 10/10/10 Global Work Party: A Day to Celebrate Climate Solutions, by working at the Joy Garden at Northside College Prep High School.

TEENS assisted the Nature Museum’s Educator Open House in October and helped educators around Chicago overcome their fear of cockroaches
TEENS took part in a day of restoration at the Skokie Lagoons by cutting invasive Buckthorn

TEENS lend a hand with the Herpetological Society on the first snowy day of December at the Nature Museum
Comments: 0 comments

Posted: 12/14/2010 11:56:44 AM by Deb Kutska
Different macroinvertebrates, small creatures or “bugs” without a backbone, have different tolerances to pollution found in water. Pollution in this sense might include, phosphates and nitrates from fertilizer, bacteria, and some heavy metals. Several of these “bugs” are collectively known as Group 1 organisms. All of them happen to be insects, and all have no tolerance to pollution.
Friends of the Chicago River has been monitoring the health of the North Branch of the Chicago River for over fifteen years. In all that time, we’ve never found a Group 1 insect north of downtown. Until recently…
In October 2009, students from St. Ignatius College Prep High School and Maine East High School each found a dobsonfly larvae, also known as a hellgrammite. One was at Glenview Woods, the other at Linne Woods. Both were found in the North Branch of the Chicago River.
Allen LaPointe, Director of Water Systems and Analysis at the John G. Shedd Aquarium, is encouraged by this discovery. “Dobsonflies are an important piece of the puzzle in the Chicago River, along with bigger animals that eat them, like fish and otters. The return of these animals not present 20 years ago says to me that the river is improving.”
Ben Schaufele, a senior and Ecology Club member from Maine East High School, found the dobsonfly on his field trip. Upon learning of the insect’s importance as an indicator of good water quality and of the rarity of his find, Ben stated, “It was a privilege and an honor to find such an interesting indicator species.”
There are almost two dozen species found in North America, but none in the Chicago River until there were found in 2009. Since then, three additional dobsonfly larvae have been found on Friends of the Chicago River field trips. One by Maine East High School again at Linne Woods in October 2010. Two others were found in November 2010 by Christ the King School at Irene Hernandez Family Picnic Area in LaBagh Woods, a site downstream of last year’s discoveries. The larvae appear to be active in the late fall months.
Whether this is a return of the species for good or not is yet to be seen. Only continued monitoring of the river will tell.
Post submitted by Mark Hauser, Friends of the Chicago River
Comments: 0 comments

Posted: 12/14/2010 11:50:17 AM by Deb Kutska
Students from Lake Forest Open Lands’ newest education initiative, the Center for Conservation Leadership (CCL) explored the topic of environmental justice this past Saturday, November 6, 2010. With the help of professional lawyers, Susan Franzetti and Julia Magnus, students learned through role playing the responsibilities of judges and environmental lawyer representing different interest groups in determining complex conservation issues. CCL participants were joined by students from the Shedd Aquarium, Chicago and from the Urban Ecology Center, Milwaukee as they debated responsibility for and solutions to the spread of Asian carp in Lake Michigan as well as the clean up of Waukegan Harbor.   The day culminated in the students presenting their cases to a panel of student judges in the City of Lake Forest City Council Chambers, 220 East Deerpath Road, Lake Forest, IL. 25 students participated.
This workshop was part of the year-long CCL Certificate Program for middle and high school students in Lake County coordinated by Lake Forest Open Lands. Each year, CCL accepts 20 students, representing diverse backgrounds from throughout Lake County, Illinois who are passionate about conservation and the environment. These students participate in a three-week summer residential experience, weekend workshops during the school year and complete a stewardship project in their community. Upon successful completion of the program, students are awarded a certificate of completion and invited to continue in CCL through placement in conservation partner internships in subsequent years. This Environmental Justice workshop was part of the school year workshop series. For more information on the Center for Conservation Leadership, please visit or contact Susie Hoffmann at 847-234-8388 or
Post submitted by Susie Hoffman, Lake Forest Open Lands Association
Comments: 0 comments

Posted: 11/9/2010 11:45:39 AM by Deb Kutska

Why are you personally interested in conservation?

1. Conservation is important to me for several reasons. First, conservation is about saving and protecting our world, something that I really value and want to preserve for others to enjoy. Second, conservation has shown me that it only takes an idea to change the world. Once a dedicated group gets started, there's nothing that can stop them. And this is how conservation works. When more and more people join the cause, it snowballs and before long, we can say that we've made a dent, we've started a significant change. Our planet has been under a lot of stress. Slowly everyday, the earth is getting dirtier and dirtier. We need to change this. And I believe that it's us, the current generation, that will change it. The responsibility of cleaning up our environment has been passed down for far too long. It needs to stop here and now or we might never have the chance to save our planet again. This is what conservation is about. And this is what we need to make happen today. Our group has decided to take the responsibility of protecting our environment and we won't let it be silently and wrongly be passed down to the next group of kids. It's a big job and we're here to make the change start now.
What is it about the "DOT" project that is so exciting for you?
2. Do One Thing is the perfect chance for us to start our campaign to save the environment. It helps us pass on the conservation mindset by asking people to only make one small change to there life. This has been an amazing tool. In only a couple weeks, we were able to collect over 700 DOTs! Thats 700 people who have changed one thing in their life to help the environment. Thats a lot! Our original goal was only a couple hundred. DOT has opened my eyes a little more to see how people really do care about the environment and they really are willing to help make a difference. Whenever I worked DOT, my favorite saying was always: "Every little thing counts" and I think that really sums up why I like DOT so much. Every little thing that each of us can do adds up to a massive difference.

What is the best way to get youth involved in conservation?
3. I think the best way to encourage people to do anything is to get them involved. A lot of people won't help conservation because they say something like: "I'm only one person, so I won't make that much of a difference." Or maybe they'll say: "Well, I don't feel like doing it now but I'll do it next time." These are the attitudes that need to be changed. By getting kids involved in our DOT campaign and encouraging them to do more at home, we'll be leaving the idea of conservation and its urgency in their minds. Getting them excited and ready to have fun while practicing conservation, they'll not only leave with a positive idea of conservation, but they'll also enjoy helping the environment. Get kids involved, spread the word, and make it fun.
(photo by Kym Brown)

Comments: 0 comments

Posted: 10/29/2010 4:23:57 PM by Deb Kutska

This summer, the Chicago Zoological Society's Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) welcomed our partners from the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) to educate us more about climate change and illustrate what teens can do to help spark change in their communities.  Inspired by the "Do One Thing" program  ACE staff presented  (www.acespace/DOT), our YVC Interpretive Track members created a station at Brookfield Zoo to help inspire our guests to take action!  Guests were engaged in conversations at our new Great Bear Wilderness exhibit, where the focus is commitment to conservation action. They were then asked to commit to "Do One Thing". Each action guests committed to were written on animal cutouts that are currently being used to create a visual display of guest commitments.  We only ran the station for two weeks, but in that time inspired over 700 adults and children to take action! The most frequent commitment made: "Turning off lights and/or electronics". 



This energetic group of youth was led by Nick Cothard, a third year youth volunteer with CZS.  Acting as our ACE Ambassador, Nick was integral in creation of the station and motivating his peers to take part in the activity. The theme was that everyone can be a superhero to protect our Earth. In honor of this, Nick even created his very own "green" cape from reusable shopping bags.  Though we are still busy entering in our DOTs, the YVC are proud to be on the ACE leaderboard already! His enthusiasm is contagious!  Thanks to Nick for his help, as well as all of the ACE team for creating a program that truly inspires and motivates teens to take part in conservation action!

  (Photo Credit: Kym Brown)

Comments: 0 comments



About "Young Conservationists"

This blog was created to showcase youth who are making a difference in their communities and in conservation. Check back often to learn about individuals who are going above and beyond to positively impact their world, to learn about programs that are doing the same and to find valuable resources for youth in your community. Comments are encouraged and welcome! If you are interested in submitting content to post on the blurb or would like your organization to appear in our list of partners, please contact the blog moderator at:


March 2011(3)
January 2011(1)
December 2010(2)
October 2010(1)

Recent Posts

Facebook  Twitter  YouTube