The Chicago River System is a Unique Environmental Teaching Tool

Solorio Academy students conduct water quality testing at McClaughrey Springs near Palos Park, Illinois.

Solorio Academy High School chemistry and environmental science teacher Greta Kringle – a past recipient of our Educator of the Year award - successfully uses the Chicago River system as a teaching tool to help her students learn science and develop a sense of stewardship for the river system and its wildlife.

In the second installment of our Inside, Out & About episode featuring Crooked Creek, Friends’ Executive Director Margaret Frisbie interviews Kringle about how the Chicago River Schools Network (CRSN) brings the planet to life for her students at Solorio Academy in the Gage Park neighborhood of Chicago. Kringle says the hands-on learning of the CRSN creates new experiences for students in nature, and helps them understand their role in the environment and how they can help improve and protect it.

“It didn’t make sense to me to teach environmental science and not get out and do stuff in the environment,” said Kringle. “I knew I wanted to have a field trip that was special for our group…. and the content learning (of the CRSN) is deep and authentic to what environmental scientists do.”

Kringle says a typical CRSN experience for her students includes a trip to McClaughrey Springs in the Palos region to conduct water chemistry testing at Mill Creek. By donning hip waders students also wade into the creek to collect macroinvertebrate species from the water to learn how these indicator species help determine the health of an ecosystem. The students also go on a nature walk to learn how to be mindful in nature. 

Now in its 25th year, the CRSN provides K-12 teachers with the tools they need to meet state learning standards, and offers training and personalized assistance for teachers to take their students on an adventure into the turbulent history, evolving ecology, and improving health of the Chicago River system. Led by Mark Hauser, Friends' ecology outreach manager, the CRSN is one of Friends' most diverse and inclusive programs. Since its founding in 1996, the CRSN has engaged more than 450,000 students and teachers in science, language, and fine arts activities at numerous river locations to the north and south.

In a companion Crooked Creek podcast, Frisbie interviews Marla Garrison, a renowned dragonfly and damselfly expert, who brings dragonflies to life. Crooked Creek and the surrounding land are fertile habitat for dragonflies and damselflies, including the endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly. Garrison is a faculty member at McHenry County College and the author of “Damselflies of Chicagoland, A Photo Field Guide.”

Also, a Chicago Tribune story profiled innovative Chicago artist, Norman W. Long who uses sound to connect people with their community, history, culture, and ecology. Long was a guest on our Inside, Out & About podcast about Big Marsh Park. Listen to Long discuss his sound art production within the larger context of landscape.