Chicago River Student Congress Success

One of our two 2021 Educators of the Year, Zach Schroeder (left) of Chicago’s Skinner North Classical School with Mark Hauser the head of our Chicago River Schools Network.

Undeterred by a little rain, over 120 students, teachers, parents, and environmental professionals from across the region gathered this week along banks of the North Branch of Chicago River for the 25th Annual Chicago River Student Congress.

Held this year at Clark Park in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood, the annual event is a water science-focused student conference organized by our Chicago River Schools Network (CRSN). Attendees participated in interactive environmental experiments including water quality testing, trail restoration, a litter cleanup, and a birds-of-prey showcase featuring a barn owl, a red-tailed hawk, and an eastern screech-owl.

Also at the Student Congress, Friends of the Chicago River presented the 2021 Educator of the Year award to two Chicago Public School teachers from Skinner North Classical School –Kimberly Marine and Zach Schroeder – for their creative approach, student education, and community engagement in the CRSN. 

Our partners at the River Park Advisory Council also presented their Be the Change you Want to See award to the soccer, track, and cross country teams of Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center for their volunteer litter cleanup of River Park following July 4th celebrations last year. Co-captains Mary Derama and Amer Dzankovic accepted the award on behalf of their teammates. 

"It has been a long two years since 2020, the last time the Student Congress was held in person, so it was great to see so many of our teachers and partners in attendance, said Mark Hauser, Friends’ ecology outreach manager. We appreciate the support of all the students from so many schools as they continue to explore and care for the river. They are truly the heart and soul of the Chicago River Schools Network." 

With the Chicago-Calumet River system as a teaching tool, the CRSN enriches academic courses with river-based learning for students, helping them grow a life-long sense of stewardship for the river. Since its founding in 1996, the CRSN has engaged more than 450,000 students and teachers in science, language, and history activities at river locations, north and south.

The cornerstone of Friends’ education and outreach programs, the CRSN is also one of Friends’ most diverse and inclusive programs. Public schools represent 90% of CRSN participants. A five-year analysis of the CRSN conducted by Friends in 2019 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% Latinx, 29.6% Caucasian, 20.6% Black, and 7.3% Asian.