Open Spaces

BACT and BHS: A Science Literacy Partnership

A hands-on Conservation Leadership Project nurtures the next generation of environmental leaders


By April Anderson

High school is a turning point—a place teeming with unique challenges as it brings together youth that have just completed middle school with those who are contemplating their life’s work. It is a place where “real world” connections enable students to grasp the practicality of analytical, communicative, and collaborative skills.

Working with horticulture classes at Barrington High School (BHS) since 2012, Barrington Area Conservation Trust (BACT) Executive Director Lisa Woolford has nurtured a relationship that has resulted in students learning to cultivate and plant about 3,000 native plants at BACT’s Pederson Preserve (at Lake Cook and Hart Roads) over the course of the last three years. Inspired by the passion for conservation she saw expressed by this small group of students, Woolford wanted to do more.

This summer, Woolford and NatureSci Educational Resources consultant Susan Lenz, worked with teachers and students from BHS to prepare for the launch of a new collaborative BACT/BHS Conservation Leadership Project (CLP) encompassing classroom programming, hands-on fieldwork, career exploration, internship opportunities, and extracurricular activities.

“The Conservation Leadership Project is designed to address the unmet needs of students who are really looking to get involved and maybe explore science as a career,” says Woolford. “Our goal is to help students get some experience in their own community, in order to insure we have our next generation of conservation leaders serving as board members, volunteers, or professionals in the field.”

Classroom programming

Using resources provided by BACT (including The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center Stream Discovery Program) to address Next Generation Science Standards and offer hands-on field study experiences, BHS Department Chair of Science and Engineering Julie Baylor, along with her team of teachers, has been developing a curriculum to promote science literacy through hands-on research.

“We hope that by creating these authentic experiences for our students, they will develop an awareness of the conservation efforts happening in their own community and be motivated to get involved outside of the classroom,” says Baylor. “It would be great if students were inspired to volunteer their time to amazing organizations like BACT during high school and beyond, or even decide that this is a career that they would like to pursue.”

Science teacher Jeff McMahon explains, “The goal is for students to perform several different tests on the stream at 4–5 different locations. The students will repeat these tests several times throughout the year and compile the data for analysis in an effort to assess the quality of the stream.” Eventually, McMahon would like to see students participate in research expeditions focusing on the environment in other parts of the United States and the world.

Internships, scholarships, and merit projects

Internship opportunities, currently under development for summer 2016, will be posted along with a list of environmental scholarships at in late winter. Depending upon available funding, BACT would like to offer two-week experiences for interns to gain experience working alongside a restoration technician, learning about Conservation@Work initiatives, and assisting with organic farm work.

Regional scholarships for those entering the environmental field or in the midst of pursuing environmentally-oriented degrees are currently listed on the BACT website (

For those wishing to learn through service, BACT will continue to work with Eagle Scouts and Gold Award candidates seeking to complete projects, as

A hands-on Conservation Leadership Project nurtures the next generation of environmental leaders well as individuals and groups wishing to volunteer. Work days will continue to be shared on the BACT website and Facebook.

Conservation Leadership Project Needs You

Volunteer to assist with water quality monitoring programs during or after school. To learn more, visit or contact Help my making a tax-deductible donation to Conservation Leadership Project c/o Barrington Area Conservation Trust, 145 W. Main St., Barrington, IL 60010.

Career exploration

For career advisor Linda Griffin, CLP means organizing a new “career trek” to allow students to visit workplaces, speak with professionals, and get a feel for what it would be like to work in that field. “I look forward to working with the science department and members of BACT to explore some green jobs with high-growth potential that I can share with our students,” says Griffin, who adds, “I will seek out community partners, perhaps in the environmental law or engineering fields, who are willing to speak with our students about their areas of expertise. Hopefully, as the program grows, we can offer more treks dealing with these fields, perhaps bringing professionals into the classroom as well.”

Lenz sees the current classroom program expanding beyond the realm of AP/Honors offerings to regular environmental science classes and eventually across the curriculum into English, math, etc. over the next five years, if CLP can find generous ongoing sponsors to support its work. BACT currently offers professional and volunteer support for participating classrooms in addition to equipment necessary for stream monitoring.

Extracurricular activities

In early July, Lenz conducted her first RiverWatch monitoring session with a group of BHS students who spent a morning at Pederson Preserve observing and recording the physical surroundings of the creek, weather conditions, temperatures (for both air and water), and water velocity, in addition to the composition of the creek bed and its benthic macroinvertebrate residents.

Benthic macroinvertebrates (BMIs) or bottom-dwelling creatures without a backbone, are used to determine water quality. With one person kicking rocks or shaking submerged sticks upstream in tandem with others holding nets downstream, BMIs were gathered in nets which were then emptied into clean white trays. As the sediment settled and the water became clear, signs of life once hidden at the bottom of the stream became visible. Specimens were then gathered for analysis using pipettes and prepared to send to a lab.

Waterproof identification sheets with Latin names and color images helped students identify some of the naiads they had captured. With water-filled boots and muddy hands, students quickly became accustomed to focusing on creatures the size of a fingernail, and in some cases, even smaller!

The main difference between the in-school Stream Discovery curriculum and the after-school citizen scientist RiverWatch program is that Stream Discovery utilizes chemical tests for pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), biological oxygen demand (BOD), nitrates, and phosphates, in addition to physical and biological examinations.

Lisa Woolford, a field-based environmental scientist who worked with wetlands in Florida prior to moving to Illinois, is hoping BACT’s restoration work in the Pederson Preserve wetland surrounding Flint Creek will yield measurable improvements in water quality. “Even if you don’t care about nature, water is going to be the next limiting resource,” says Woolford.

In a school district that already provides valuable opportunities for younger students to connect with nature, CLP enables high school students to contribute what they are learning to national initiatives to preserve the integrity of local watersheds, while reinforcing positive connections with the natural world.

- - - - - - - - - -

April Anderson is a naturalist and freelance writer who can be contacted at