Dunes Learning Center is an environmental education center located in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The center offers various camps and programs throughout the year for kids and adults of all ages.
In addition to offering programs for the general public, Dunes Learning Center works with schools across the region to educate students on their environment through field trips and stewardship activities. One of the newer programs offered by the center is the East Chicago Mighty Acorns program.
East Chicago Mighty Acorns is a new branch of the preexisting Mighty Acorns program which provides 3rd-6th grade students at participating schools with three field trips a year for a span of all three years. These field trips offer hands-on learning opportunities in which the students build knowledge and skills in ecological restoration and also include concepts that correlate with Indiana and Common Core Standards.
For the 2014-2015 school year, FEC funding allowed two East Chicago elementary schools to participate in East Chicago Mighty Acorns for the first time. A total of 324 East Chicago students were able to take advantage of these experiential learning opportunities.
These field trips taught East Chicago kids about the environment of the region in which they live in a fun, unique setting. Not only were the students able to gain knowledge and skills but their restoration work had a real impact on the environmental sites where they participated. As a reward for the restoration work they did, these students were offered membership in the Mighty Acorns summer program at a greatly reduced rate.
Evaluations conducted by the students’ teachers after the field trips showed that the students’ levels of knowledge and affinity for environmental science greatly increased. Studies have also shown that when students get outside and interact with what they are learning, their abilities to retain knowledge and focus increase.
The knowledge and skills that the students acquired through the East Chicago Mighty Acorns program will help them to become more environmentally-responsible individuals in the future which will benefit all of East Chicago.