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More Than a School Project: Empowering Students to Get Involved

Last semester, Ms. Sue’s class started a career research project. One student, Kyle, chose to research his passion rather than a specific career – stopping climate change. As a part of the project, guided by the support from Ms. Sue, Kyle intrepidly reached out to local climate activists to personally interview them, and much to his amazement, Mr. Mario Longoni, Lead Environmental Social Scientist at the Field Museum responded! Kyle was over the moon!

They both exchanged numerous emails allowing Kyle to fully explain to Mr. Longoni his aspiration to positively affect the world.

“I work at our school greenhouse. We plant vegetables and many kinds of plants. We sell plants and vegetables to raise money for Allendale. Sometimes the campus dining hall will serve the vegetables we grow with our meals. What else can we do at our greenhouse to help climate change?” asks Kyle sincerely.

Mr. Longoni graciously shared his wisdom on native plants. “You could start growing native plants that support endangered pollinators and promote your classmates and their friends and families planting the seedlings you grow into their yards/gardens at home. We distribute a lot of milkweed seedlings each year to help the monarch butterfly populations not completely crash in North America. There are other native nectar plants that will generally just help native insects who in turn help maintain the native plant,” shared Mario, genuinely appreciating Kyle’s interest in climate change.

Mr. Longoni was thrilled to learn that Allendale’s Greenhouse Instructor, Nanci Lunsford, researched and planted a prairie garden on our Lake Villa campus a few years ago to attract pollinators as part of our “Mary Shahbazian Butterfly Sanctuary” in honor of former Allendale President, who retired in 2017.

“Helping native habitats to remain healthy keeps them absorbing carbon through photosynthesis, but also providing the “ecoservices” like cooling our environment, that we depend on them for. As the “heat island effect” gets worse with climate change, we’ll need more hearty prairie plants in particular to help cool things down,” says Mr. Longoni and applauds the efforts of Allendale’s Greenhouse program for creating and maintaining a healthy prairie garden.

Inspired students take action.

“When I interviewed the scientist, I really enjoyed his answers. I learned a lot about native plants and how to help with global warming. It makes me feel like I am helping the environment. I would recommend doing this project to other kids. It was not just from a book, we got to talk to actual professionals and were able to learn a lot more that way,” says Kyle, now more focused than ever to make a difference for the environment.

It takes a team of dedicated professionals to teach kids to think outside the box and explore their own strengths and interests. Sue Swanson, Special Education Teacher at Allendale for over 22 years, thoroughly enjoys assigning projects that help students think about the world in different ways and to inspire them to become more involved in issues they are passionate about.

“The best part about Allendale is all the staff and people here. They really helped me and I have positive relationships with every staff I have worked with. It’s a good place for kids,” says Kyle gratefully.

Interested in this important work and joining our team?

Allendale is looking for a Special Education Teacher & Teacher’s Assistants to complete our team; interested candidates can apply online here or email us at careers@allendale4kids.org.

A tradition of care and service.

For 125 years, Allendale, a private, not-for-profit organization, has led youth with serious emotional, mental, and behavioral health challenges and their families on a journey towards resiliency.

At Allendale, our aim is to offer every chance for healing and growth – through myriad programs and services and a continuum of care including 24/7 therapeutic residential treatment, therapeutic day school programs, outpatient counseling services, foster care and community support services. Allendale is a place where kids and families have the opportunity to restore their lives and discover a better future.