One memory I have of ECO that burns brightly in my mind is that of a 3rd grade student from Lent Elementary, I'll call him Jason. Jason always came to school in clothing and shoes that were way too large for him. He was unwashed and clearly not well cared for. According to his teacher, he had a very difficult home life and had an exceptionally hard time focusing in school. When I first started teaching in his classroom that year, he would disrupt my lessons and act out. I decided to give him extra responsibility when we came to class, asking him to help me set up, pass out supplies, etc. By my second visit he was completely focused and enmeshed in our ECO lessons. He told me, "I love this! I love ECO science!" In the Spring, we took him on a planting and nature exploration field trip to the Springwater Corridor. It was incredible to watch Jason blossom outside. He was a focused and hard worker during the native planting activity. And when we went out to explore, he simply shined. He literally squealed with delight when we found a slug. He stopped at every turn to look under rocks and logs, investigating everything he could get his hands on. When he wasn't touching some natural object, he would immediately run over to me and hold my hand, pulling me along as we explored. The memory of his beaming smile and radiating enthusiasm has stayed with me to this day.
I love ECO for all of the reasons our supporters do: nature, children, experiential ed, art. It is incredibly moving to see the way the children light up when they see us come into a classroom, and to feel myself light up in a similar way. To have a group of 35 students shout "ECO!" when they see us is so wonderful. Wonderful because if feels good to be loved by the kids we are serving, but also because you know that when we get this same response day after day, class after class, we really are reaching these kids in a meaningful way. We're making an impact. I consistently see children who have little exposure to nature. Many students tell me about how they live in apartments, and don't have a backyard to play in. Others talk about how their parents work so much they don't have time to take their children out into wild places. It's powerful to introduce them to the idea that, even in the city, you can find nature in the crack of a sidewalk, or in the confines of a school yard. It's also amazing to lead these students on experiential field trips. Students simply shine when they go outside. Even the students who have the hardest time focusing in school are able to joyfully explore, plant, remove invasive species, and soak in the wonder of nature. They love it! They hoot and holler and dance around as soon as you get them outside. They enjoy hands-on work, and they revel in exploring natural areas.