25 Years Educating Students

With the 2021 school year well underway, the Chicago River Schools Network (CRSN), Friends’ premier education program, is off to a fast start in its 25th year. Since its founding in 1996, the CRSN has engaged more than 450,000 students and teachers in science, language, and fine arts activities at river locations to the north and south.

Designed to provide teachers with the tools they need to meet state learning standards, the CRSN provides K-12 teachers with the training and personalized assistance they need to take their students on an adventure into the turbulent history, evolving ecology, and improving health of the Chicago River system. Students investigate real world issues and create service learning projects that work to solve everyday problems facing the Chicago River.

Chicago River Talks

During the first two months of the 2021 school year the CRSN has already partnered with more schools than during the previous 18 months combined. In the 2019 and 2020 school year the CRSN responded to the pandemic by adapting its programming to include free online experiences and distance learning to support the many school districts in the Chicago region including the Chicago Public Schools. To view CRSN digital content, visit Friends’ YouTube channel.

Led by Mark Hauser, Friends' ecology outreach manager, the CRSN is one of Friends' most diverse and inclusive programs. Public schools represent 90% of CRSN participants. In 2019, Friends conducted a five-year analysis of the CRSN and found that 69% of schools served were Chicago Public Schools, with 53.1% of students from low-income families. Over that same period, students served were 37.1% Hispanic or Latino, 29.6% Caucasian, 20.6% Black, and 7.3% Asian.

Among our partners this school year are CIMBY (Calumet Is My Backyard), Chicago Adventure Therapy, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Drummond Montessori School, the Midwest Academy for Gifted Education, Mount Carmel High School, IIT, Budlong Elementary, Fulton Elementary, Solorio College Prep High School, Loyola Academy High School, and Refugee Education and Adventure Challenge (REACH).

One of the best ways students engage with the CRSN is at the annual Chicago River Student Congress, a student-led conference about river issues. Students share their knowledge, experiences, and enthusiasm with their peers. They attend informative workshops and view displays created by other students and by professionals from local colleges, non-profits, and government agencies. The next Student Congress is being planned for February 2022. Stay tuned for details.

For more information about CRSN, and our ongoing and individualized assistance for educators, please feel free to contact Hauser directly at mhauser@chicagoriver.org.