Education Program Takes Root in Illinois Classrooms

The Takeaway: What started with a single school has expanded to educate over 1,500 students on the ins and outs of the water cycle and the importance of Lake Michigan.

An environmental education program that started with a single pilot school has branched out and taken root. Supported by the Illinois Coastal Management Program, Pipes and Precipitation offers annual teacher trainings, in-school lessons, and field trips for third and sixth graders focused on the importance of Lake Michigan. From the precipitation above ground to the pipes that give us our drinking water below, this education program covers the ins and outs of our water cycle. Over the past four years, it has reached 1,500 students.

Students start with an exploration of the water in their own schools and schoolyards. Then they participate in field trips to local beaches with help from the nonprofit Alliance for the Great Lakes. Third graders learn where our drinking water comes from by touring local water treatment plants. Sixth graders are introduced to the challenge of urban flooding.

The program began as a pilot in one school and quickly expanded throughout the Evanston, Illinois, school district with its adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, which give teachers the flexibility to design classroom-learning experiences that stimulate students’ interest in science. Many schools even promoted school-led rain gardens to help students apply the water management skills they’d learned. It has also spread into the local community through an adult, peer-led lecture series on the Lake Michigan watershed called the Water Collective. The lecture series occurs monthly in the winter and—led by local experts—focuses on topics that include coastal change, plastic pollution, and more. (2019)

Partners: Illinois Coastal Management Program, NOAA Office for Coastal Management