A diverse ecosystem, including butterflies and honeybees, springs to life at the newly constructed pollinator garden at Hiawatha Middle School. In Hastings, new compost bins line the wall of the school cafeteria. Minnesota Middle Schoolers completed both projects and many more through the new Conservation Crew program sponsored by Conservation Minnesota.
Conservation Crew is a fully funded youth-led extracurricular program that engages middle school students in learning and leadership around conservation in their schools. Each Crew is led by a teacher or staff person, made up of 5-25 students, and supported by Conservation Minnesota. Teachers receive a $3,000 stipend and a $500-$1,000 grant to fund the Crew’s project.
Conservation Crew allows students to explore what conservation means, select and organize a project, and share their work with their school and surrounding communities.
Hiawatha Academy teacher Shelbee Jaegar noted that Conservation Crew was helping kids connect. “Our school doesn’t currently offer many after-school activities, so this is an especially exciting opportunity. One student shared that she’s never been in a club before, which made her nervous at first, but now she’s connected with new friends across multiple grade levels.”
Conservation Crew is a starting point. It helps establish a love for the environment that students take back to their homes and communities. This empowers them to grow as conservation leaders and take on bigger and bolder challenges.
The Crew program assists teachers in creating projects tailored to their students. And in addition to the teacher’s stipend and project grant, Conservation Minnesota provides resources and connections to local conservation experts.
At Cottage Grove Middle School, Conservation Crew was the school’s first after-school club in over two years. Students learned the ins and outs of creating habitats for native wildlife that share their school grounds. Starting with research to create a well-thought-out plan, the students worked hard to make their school garden a reality.
By the end of the project, they had transformed their garden space and planned to take on more conservation projects over the summer and the next school year.
“The Conservation Crew has provided an opportunity for students to take ownership of part of their school and leave a legacy garden that will attract bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators,” said teacher Mike Mueller.
At Hasting’s Middle School, students concerned about the amount of plastic going into the garbage made it their mission to fix the school’s waste issues. The group learned how to recycle correctly, then developed an incentive program to solve the sorting problem. Students quickly saw improvements in their school waste as more students became interested in the Crew’s efforts. Hastings Middle Schoolers hope to grow the program next year to reach even more students.
Some other examples of Conservation Crew projects include:
- Planting trees, a pollinator garden, or a rain garden
- Conducting an energy audit and promoting energy reduction solutions
- Implementing lunchroom composting
- Creating educational materials or art projects on environmental issues
- Switching to refillable water bottles and fill stations in schools
- Cleaning up or improving a local park, creek, or river
- Conducting water testing at local waterways
At the end of the year, schools participate in a celebration where they present their project to a panel of judges and the other Crews, much like a science fair. Winning Crews receive an additional $500.
Conservation Minnesota is currently accepting new schools to participate in the 2022-2023 school year. Spots are limited and filling up fast. Sign up or learn more at conservationminnesota.org/crew.