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Urban Forest Stewardship Program wraps up first year in Detroit

Belle Isle Nature Zoo Manager Mike Reed shows off a new nature trail DPS students helped clear.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Belle Isle Nature Zoo Manager Mike Reed shows off a new nature trail DPS students helped clear.

Some Detroit Public Schools students involved in the Urban Forest Stewardship Program showed off their work this past weekend.

Eight Detroit middle and high schools participated in the program on Belle Isle this year.

Their projects included beach clean-ups, water quality testing, invasive species control, and clearing a new nature trail.

Tracy Ortiz, a sixth-grade science teacher at Detroit’s Clippert Academy, says the projects have introduced many of her students many of her students to natural world—and taught them science in a way that sticks.

“When they’re actually doing the science, versus looking at it in a book in a classroom, it’s just so much more profound for them,” Ortiz said. “And they have really come to love nature.”

The stewardship program is wrapping up its first year. It’s funded for at least another year through a US Forest Service grant.

Lisa Perez works with the Forest Service in Detroit. She says when the kids first start their projects, they’re generally wary, and even a little afraid, of the forest.

But she says that really changes over the course of the year.

“They really are able to start exploring and delving in, and even some of the girls are picking up the earthworms and bugs,” Perez said. “There’s just a lot more connection. So it’s a really different group coming in than going out.”

Perez says the idea is to introduce city kids to the natural world in their midst—and also help teachers develop curriculums to supplement what they’ve learned.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.