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Students Learn About Science at the Chicago River

Students with Girls 4 Science Staff at Flatfoot Lake in Beaubien Woods.

Students with Girls 4 Science Staff at Flatfoot Lake in Beaubien Woods. Photos courtesy of Friends of the Chicago River.

The Chicago River Schools Network (CRSN), the premier educational program of Friends of the Chicago River, is creating new field trips and presentations for the 2022-23 school year to help students explore the Chicago River and learn about nature and science.

The group kicked off the coming school year with a late July program that included nearly 100 girls from three South Side high schools exploring native habitats and performing chemistry tests to assess water quality at Flatfoot Lake, in Beaubien Woods. The event was a collaboration of the CRSN and Girls 4 Science, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping girls overcome barriers to success in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Students tested water quality and donned hip waders and nets to conduct a study of macroinvertebrates found in the water. They also participated in a habitat scavenger hunt to use their observation skills in nature.

The CRSN and Girls 4 Science have partnered together over the last 12 years to help girls in the Chicago area gain experience with nature and science. Jackie Lomax, executive director of Girls 4 Science, says, “We are so proud of our collaboration with Friends of the Chicago River. Everything about our work with Friends is inclusive, and creates opportunities for the students to immerse themselves in real-world STEM activities related to water chemistry.”

During the past school year, the CRSN worked with 28 schools on 38 field trips and gave seven classroom presentations, teaching 1,585 students about the river; mostly at the river’s edge. Total student engagement was 13,245 via direct programming, counting teachers as multipliers. The group also returned to an in-person Chicago River Student Congress, an annual student-led river celebration along the banks of the North Branch of Chicago River at Clark Park. The next student congress event is planned for February 2023.

Mark Hauser, Friends ecology outreach manager, who leads the CRSN, says, “It’s fantastic to see that this program continues to create value for teachers and students alike. We are an innovative approach for teachers to bring the river into classrooms and classrooms to the river.”

The CRSN also teaches students about environmental stewardship through litter cleanup activities. Friends currently receives a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources - Coastal Management Program, which funds litter removal along the Chicago-Calumet River system, allowing them to remove access barriers by hiring buses to bring students to and from the river. Friends has achieved more than 875 hours of student engagement removing litter since the grant began in February. Since 1996, Friends has helped thousands of teachers and more than 475,000 students explore the Chicago River.

For more information, including lesson plans and activities for teachers centered on the Chicago-Calumet River System, visit