Students Get Their Hands Dirty in Environmental Education Classes at Crosslake Community School – Pine and Lakes Echo Journal

CROSSLAKE – Ella Hautala and Kara Nelson, grade seven students at Crosslake Community School, had two choices for their environmental civic project: write a letter to the editor or perform an act of environmental stewardship.

“It seemed a lot more fun than writing,” Nelson said.

So the girls did what most other students their age wouldn’t do: they spent a Saturday working on shoreline restoration at Camp Knutson in Crosslake.

On May 21, they met Kristie Roedl, Shoreline Restoration Manager for the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association, and spent the day learning about shoreline restoration and planting native species between Big Trout and Lower Lakes. Whitefish.

“It was surprising how different native plants are from other plants,” Hautala said. “Grass, for example, only goes a few inches, but native plants, like butterfly grass, grow feet, and it’s super intricate, making it ideal for holding shorelines together and preventing erosion.”

Hautala and Nelson’s shoreline restoration efforts were part of Crosslake Community School’s middle school environmental education program. Other student projects included visiting the National Loon Center in Crosslake, collecting litter in the Cross Lake Recreation Area, and writing letters to the editor (some of which can be found on this week’s Opinion page) .

Crosslake Community School teacher Clare Thompson talks to her students at the National Loon Center’s The Nest in Crosslake.

Contribution (spring 2022)

“I want students to really engage with nature, to look at it, to see that it’s something that was given to us,” said CCS science and environmental education teacher Clare Thompson. “If you have a caring and loving relationship in nature and you recognize the benefits of that, then you’re going to want to take care of it. So the next step would be to do something about it.

The environmental education classroom is part of CCS’s goals and mission statement, Thompson said. The school is one of 34 charter schools in Minnesota licensed by Osprey Wilds, an environmental learning center. There are various indicators the school is working towards, including environmental action.

It gives you a whole new branch of this new way of learning and presenting ideas that I don’t think I’ve really ever had. It’s really fun and rewarding to do.

Ella Hautala

The intermediate level class is divided into three segments: watershed and coastal restoration, oceans and land, resources and energy. While this year was ocean-focused, which is why the student letters to the editor focused on plastic pollution, there were still some lessons about local watersheds.

That’s part of the reason Hautala and Nelson chose the project they did.

The class is not just a science lesson. Students also spend part of their year keeping a nature journal, so the course also counts as an art credit.

“It gives you a whole new branch of this new way of learning and presenting ideas that I don’t think I’ve really ever received,” Hautala said. “It’s really fun and rewarding to do.”

Thompson said she’s seen a similar positive response from many of her students, regardless of their circumstances.

“Especially in cities, we have students who don’t go out into nature, but they make an effort to see a squirrel or draw a bird that they even see in their park around the corner,” Thompson said. “But I see all the kids reacting really positively, benefiting from closer observation of nature and learning about nature’s problems.”

Thompson said she also received a lot of support from parents and the community. She particularly highlighted the efforts of the National Loon Center.

“We had a student turn in a whole bunch of lead ammunition and lead gear and win a box of lead-free gear,” Thompson said. “Parents really like it.”

She said the National Loon Center was behind the lead-free tackle project and often works with CCS on various projects. They will be showing student art slides in The Nest, their headquarters in Crosslake Town Square.

(At my other school) we didn’t learn anything about plastic pollution or anything like that. All we learned about pollution was just to recycle.

Kara Nelson

Hautala and Nelson realize that their environmental learning is deeper than many other children their age. Nelson compared the lessons she received in public school to those she was learning at Crosslake.

“(At my other school), we weren’t learning anything about plastic pollution or anything like that,” Nelson said. “The most we learned about pollution was just to recycle.”

Hautala had a simpler answer when asked what she wishes other children knew about the environment.

“I wish they were more aware,” she said.

Echo Journal intern Megan Buffington can be reached at 218-855-5854 or She graduated from Pequot Lakes High School in 2021 and attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.