The Beauty in the Work

Kira Lipson (left) helps students from Nettelhorst School hunt for macroinvertebrates in the Chicago River at LaBagh Woods in May.

For 25 years, the Chicago River Schools Network (CRSN) has been educating and inspiring Chicago-area teachers and their students. The CRSN strives to help these teachers integrate the Chicago River system into their classrooms in ways that challenge their students academically. The CRSN also works to influence students’ attitudes about science and nature, and set them on a path to be good stewards of their communities and the planet.

The core activities of the CRSN include Friends’ staff supporting and training teachers to use the river as a tool for learning multiplying our ability to educate students across the watershed. Friends also leads field trips to the river so students can experience it first-hand. Nearly every spring and fall season the CRSN employs college-age interns to assist in running these educational field trips. Since 1996, over 40 interns have helped thousands of teachers and nearly 80,000 students explore the Chicago and Calumet rivers. They get muddy, test water quality, capture crayfish and other bugs, remove litter, and improve habitat.

Kira Lipson is the CRSN’s current intern. She grew up in Virginia and is now a senior at Loyola University Chicago studying at the School of Environmental Sustainability, graduating in the winter of 2022. Since she was a child, she has always loved being outside. She grew up surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains and went to summer camp along Lake Michigan. In high school, she dedicated her senior project to beekeeping, which sparked her interest in environmental activism. In college she studied environmental policy, and she hopes to dedicate her time to both political and environmental change through environmental education. Of her time spent at Loyola, Lipson says, “Once I became exposed to how rapidly our natural world is changing, my entire perspective on the world changed. Our planet is so beautiful and unique, and I want to do everything I can to motivate others to reverse our negative impacts on it.”

Many of the students the CRSN engages with on field trips don’t fully realize the benefits of their experience at the time. Yet, it has been proven that what a person values usually has a much greater influence on their choice of career. Says Lipson, “Later, I realized what my passion and interests were – the environment, working with kids, and challenging current systems in place. Environmental policy and education was a perfect route for me to go in. As kids we are a blank canvas. At an early age, I learned that nature is everywhere and it has helped me become who I am today. Witnessing children learn about the importance of protecting our Earth is truly a beautiful thing. You watch their minds open to the bigger world, which inspires me to continue the work I do. While interning with Friends of the Chicago River, I have connected with the natural world of Chicago as well as its bigger community. Each time a kid finds beauty in the river, I find beauty in this work. It’s awesome!”

Since the CRSN was founded more than 473,000 students have participated in the program.