E.A.R.T.H. Festival Sedgwick County

Established 2000

General Information: 

School based, 1,100 participants, Sedgwick and Butler Counties

Next Celebration Date: 
April 29, 2010
VIP tour available?: 

Dane Baxa
E.A.R.T.H. Program Coordinator
(316) 660-0129

Festival Activities: 

Air Experiments, Air Quiz Bowl, Biosolids, Birds, Cloud in a Bottle, Discovery Hike, Edible Aquifer, Edible Soil Layers, Endangered Species Session, Land/City Planning, Life Cycle of a Hamburger, Macroinvertebrate Discovery, Migration Headaches, Pejuta Mato Native American singers & dancers, food web model, Soil Properties & Erosion, Stormwater Hangman, Stream Bank Trailer, StreamLink Mudscapes, Trash Pick!, Water Jeopardy

Detailed Festival Information: 

In 1998 two energetic women decided that in order to protect the future of environmental resources in Kansas, our young people need to be educated in environmental concepts. A focus group was formed to address a lack of environmental education material in Sedgwick County schools. Based on the recommendations of the educational advisory group, Earth Awareness Researchers for Tomorrows Habitat (E.A.R.T.H.) was created for middle school students and teachers. The pilot program consisted of 12 teachers and 600 students, modeled after the award-winning earth wellness program in Lincoln, Nebraska. The educational benefits and authentic approach that E.A.R.T.H. has brought to environmental learning has created a desire to bring this exceptional program to other Kansas Counties. E.A.R.T.H. is currently serving 12 counties and 4,500 students across the state, and 2,300 of those students are from Sedgwick County.

The E.A.R.T.H. program is designed to make students aware of environmental issues and give them tools they can use to identify, prevent, or solve environmental problems. Students who have acquired skills and knowledge during their participation in E.A.R.T.H. will be more capable of taking appropriate action in areas of environmental protection now and in the future.

Todays youth require wide-ranging and systematic education that builds their environmental decision-making skills so they will be able to effectively confront environmental challenges in the future. Unfortunately, most schools do not have the resources to create effective, research-based environmental lessons. E.A.R.T.H. is a year-long classroom program that trains teachers to present environmental skill and knowledge-building lessons to their students throughout the school year. Participating teachers receive award-winning curriculum that contains hands-on lessons built around five major themes; Air, Water, Soil, Living Resources, and Impacts. Each lesson is interactive and is correlated to the Kansas Science Standards. Many school districts face chronic funding challenges, so each teacher receives a classroom Supply Kit, worth over $500.

Each April, the E.A.R.T.H. Steering Committee hosts a Student Workshop (Water Celebration) where students apply their classroom skills to real-world challenges. At the Workshop, local environmental experts and youth development professionals present hands-on sessions based on local environmental issues. Here students are able to explore difference scientific careers as well as become active participants in their community and environment.

High school and college age Workshop volunteers are mentored by Steering Committee members as they research and create interactive sessions to present at the Workshop. Research has shown that peer-to-peer teaching and mentoring is a highly effective, practical experience. According to the 2005 E.A.R.T.H. Workshop evaluation data, 90% of students who attended youth-led sessions enjoyed learning something new during the seminar. Not only are the participating students learning, but the students presenting are able to grow in their leadership, communication and community involvement skills.

E.A.R.T.H. was designed to provide learning opportunities to students, but participating young people have taught program administrators a few things as well. During the 2004 E.A.R.T.H. Workshop, there was a cultural miscommunication. The Steering Committee did not inform all the presenters that some children were non-English speakers and would have other children in the group translating for them. One presenter felt that the children were disrespectful because they were talking. These students, who were predominately Hispanic, have a cultural practice of avoiding eye contact with adults as a sign of respect. The presenter, unaware of this custom, saw their behavior as impolite. Although the teacher, steering committee and volunteers resolved this misunderstanding quickly, the organizers do not want it to happen again. The pre-Workshop training now includes information about cultural differences in body language and communication styles so that presenters are better prepared to work with students of all ethnicities.

There was a gap in communication and supervision during two of the living resource sessions at 2002 E.A.R.T.H. Workshop. During the worm composting session, despite the presenters warnings about the health risks, a student decided to snack on worms to impress his friends. At the snake presentation, a young girl was coaxed by a visiting reporter, who was petrified of snakes himself, to pose for a picture kissing a snake. Even though the presenter had warned the students not to kiss the snakes because they had germs, the reporter took it upon himself to deal with his fears by having this young lady kiss the snake. It is important to remind presenters to do everything within their power to adhere to healthy animal handling standards. But, we all know that sometimes people just dont listen!

Dont forget to ALWAYS have a tornado and fire emergency plan along with your rain plan. Make sure all volunteers and teachers know where to find information in case of one of these emergencies. It may also be beneficial to have a set of games, stories or low-key activities in case you are stuck in a tornado shelter for a few hours.

The E.A.R.T.H. Steering Committee plans and hosts the annual Student Workshop. Committee members include:

  • Mark Bradshaw - City of Wichita Environmental Services, Code Enforcement
  • Tonya Bronleewe - E.A.R.T.H. Program Coordinator
  • Denise Dias - Sedgwick County Extension, FACS
  • Kay Drennen - City of Wichita, Environmental Services
  • Beth Drescher - Sedgwick County Extension, 4-H Youth Development
  • Jaime Gaggero - Kansas Department of Health and Environment
  • Judith Hayes - Wichita State University, College of Education
  • Nancy Larson - Kansas State Pollution Prevention Institute
  • Joyce Lent - Great Plains Nature Center
  • Michelle Perez - Butler County Extension, FACS
  • Jeff Smith - USD #260, Derby Public Schools
  • Sandy Tauer - Retired USD #260, Derby Public Schools
  • Cathy Yeotis - Wichita State University, College of Education

Financial assistance for this project has been provided by an EPA-Section 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Grant C9007405 99(3889 9591) through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in cooperation with Kansas State Research and Extension. E.A.R.T.H. also receives support from the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment, Cargill Cares, and Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse. This project is also supported by donations of in-kind goods and services from local businesses such as Krispy Kreme, Lamars Donuts, Sedgwick County, the City of Wichita, Subway, Tallianos Pizza, and Waste Management.

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