Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
June / July 1998


Earth Force Teams Up with Metro Middle School Teachers

Group Aims to Get Middle School Kids Active in Environmental Issues
by Jason Salzman

Denver is part of a national pilot program offering young people, ages 10-14, the chance to become involved in environmental issues in their communities as part of their school work. The organization, called Earth Force, is currently seeking middle school teachers who want to get involved.

Under Earth Force's program, educators guide students through a balanced, fact-based process to identify environmental problems in their community and to develop and implement a plan for long-term improvement. Earth Force has teamed with educators in schools from Boulder to Commerce City to Denver.

For example, at Place Middle School, students have created an outdoor "environmental classroom" along a stretch of Cherry Creek near the school, and they use it to educate elementary school children about the river. At Cole Middle School, the kids are focusing on drinking water issues. Kids at Ken Caryl Middle School are setting up a school recycling program and planning and caring for a low-water use landscape. In Commerce City at Adams City Middle School, students looked around their community and decided to address drainage, litter, and recreational deficiencies at a nearby park.

The Virginia-based Earth Force, a nonprofit organization, selected Denver as one of six cities across the country to pilot its Community Action and Problem Solving (CAPS) program. In the metro area, Earth Force has teamed with educators in 14 sites to help get young people involved in making positive changes within their communities. "When I started junior high, I didn't think we'd be doing anything like this," says 13-year-old Cathy Scherling of Ken Caryl Middle School. "Instead of just reading out of a book and answering questions, we're actually doing something." She added: "It helps the community, and it shows that students can make a difference."

Earth Force was initiated with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Corporation for National Service in response to surveys revealing that an overwhelming number of youth want to do something to protect the environment, but they don't know what to do. If the program is successful in Denver and the other pilot cities, it could spread across the country.

"Earth Force is committed to teaching young people how to think and how to do, not what to think and what to do," says Harry Ford, an Earth Force staffer. "The young people and their educators will select and research their own projects to meet the needs of their community. At the end of the project we want young people to have learned environmental and civic problem solving skills, made a positive contribution to their community, and have growing in them the seeds of a life-long active citizen."

Pattyanne Corsentino, a teacher at Place Middle School, emphasizes that the Earth Force activities help her kids both in and out of the classroom. "My students have joined with the community, and it's gratifying," she says, adding that local neighbors and businesses have participated in Earth Force projects at Place.

Earth Force is currently seeking middle school teachers who want to participate in the program. Substantial support, including materials and training, is provided. In addition to the community environmental work, Earth Force plans a national "Make America Bikeable," which will be kicked off next year.For more information about Earth Force, call Lisa Bardwell or Harry Ford at (303) 433-0016.