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DATE: May 2, 2005

UM-Dearborn will provide environmental programs for children and parents in urbanized schools beginning this fall, with support from the McGregor Fund

DEARBORN---Hundreds of schoolchildren from underserved schools and environmentally challenged neighborhoods in Detroit and western Wayne county will learn more about the natural world and their own neighborhood environment in the next three years through a program developed at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The parents of the children also will have multiple opportunities to participate.

UM-Dearborn faculty and staff are working with elementary school teachers and parents to develop a multi-year program focused on helping students in Detroit, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Inkster and other communities discover nature and explore nature's connections to their urbanized lives, according to Orin Gelderloos, professor of biology and director of the campus's Environmental Interpretive Center.

At least 20 schools and 25 different classes each year will be included in the program, which will be launched this fall and continue through 2008.

The program has received a $200,000 grant from the McGregor Fund, a Detroit-based private foundation. "One of our goals has been to support innovative initiatives to improve educational outcomes for children in southeastern Michigan, and we can think of few projects that could have a longer-lasting impact than expanding environmental education programs for those children who have few opportunities to enjoy the natural world," according to C. David Campbell, president of the Fund.

This gift is the second major contribution of the McGregor Fund to environmental education efforts at UM-Dearborn. In 1999, a gift of $98,500 supported design and construction of an interactive exhibit about the Rouge River Watershed in the campus's Environmental Interpretive Center.

One of the most important features of the UM-Dearborn program will be its emphasis on helping children explore the role of nature in their own neighborhoods.

"For young people in urban environments, a single visit to a natural area can have a 'forest fear factor' in it and can be a puzzling or even frightening experience," Gelderloos said. "That's why we have developed this program to connect these children with the natural world right around their own homes, as a way of introducing them to the lessons that can be taught in the forests, fields, lakes and ponds on our campus."

Another distinctive feature of the program is that it will include multiple contacts with the children over an extended period, allowing them to monitor environmental changes through the annual cycle.

"With repeat sessions both at their own schools and on our campus, the students will develop a new sense of time through understanding the changes in their environment over the course of the year," Gelderloos said. Lessons will look at the earth and sun, climate changes, weather patterns and adaptations of plants and animals to heat and cold and other conditions, he said.

"In addition, the students will learn to record data accurately, read scientific instruments with precision, analyze data, present their findings and draw meaningful conclusions," Gelderloos said.

Over the course of the program, the students will learn to compare their neighborhood environment with the campus's natural areas. "As a result of these studies, the students will develop a strong sense of their own place in the ecological world," according to Gelderloos.

"We also are working to have the children's parents join in some parts of the program, both in their own neighborhoods and on our campus," he said. "That way the children can show their parents what they've learned, and reinforce their own understanding of nature and their place in it.

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