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First John Muir Youth Awards in USA

Press Release, June 1997

The Sierra Club announces the U.S. launch of its John Muir Youth Award program in the U.S.A., modeled after the original program in Scotland.

The first 19 elementary school children to receive the new John Muir Youth Award ('Discovery' Level) are from the Room 222 Fourth Grade class co-taught by Mrs. Bindl and Diane Weiss at the John Muir Elementary School, in Portage, Wisconsin. The Portage school is noteworthy, because Portage was the nearest town to Muiršs boyhood home in Wisconsin, only 10 or 12 miles away.

Just as John Muir immigrated to America from Scotland, so the John Muir Youth Award program began in Scotland last year under the auspices of the John Muir Trust. Some 29 John Muir Schools across the United States were invited to participate in the U.S. launch of the youth award program, with Portages John Muir Elementary School being the first to receive the awards. In order to receive a John Muir Youth Award the children had to address 5 challenges:

  • Discover a wild place.
  • Explore this wild place.
  • Conserve this wild place.
  • Share the knowledge and experience with others.
  • Find out about John Muir, who he was, why he loved wild places, how he fought to save them.

The children at Portage's John Muir Elementary School have completed Level One (Discovery Award) of the John Muir Youth Award by spending more than 22 hours over a three-month period on these projects. All students who complete the program of at least 15 hours may receive the Discovery Award. Higher-level awards are planned for the future.


What Did the Children Do?

The children at Portages John Muir Elementary School discovered, explored and conserved wildness right on their own doorstep - a part of the forested school grounds so wild it does not even have name!

They looked at wild plants, trees, birds, insects and animals. They drew pictures of the animals that had this place as their habitat, and made tree posters identifying the trees by their leaves.

They made maps of this wild place, including animal homes, and drew pictures of animals and trees of this wild place in different seasons. The students shared their activities and displayed their pictures on a bulletin board at the school and at the county fair. They also wrote letters to other students at other John Muir Schools in the U.S., telling them about their area. To help conserve this wild place, they carried out a litter clean up. In exploring John Muir's life they watched a film, Explore the Wilderness, read a biography of Muir by Sally Tolan, and read passages from The Story of My Boyhood and Youth by John Muir, most appropriately the chapter on Life on a Wisconsin Farm. The students kept John Muir Journals and discussed their entries with the class.

Diane Weiss, the students' teacher, said that working on the John Muir Youth Award helped to increase students appreciation for natural areas, helping them to understand how development affects wildlife habitat. The children also learned about the importance in the history of the Westward expansion of Muir's role in keeping some natural areas protected.

Harold W. Wood, Jr., chair of the Sierra Club Environmental Education Committee, which initiated the program in the U.S., said: "These students are the environmental leaders of the future. The Sierra Club is proud to encourage these students to learn about wilderness, and to learn about John Muir, who was so important in encouraging the preservation of America's wilderness. Each student was awarded a full-color Certificate of Achievement, a work of art in its own right, containing photography from noted photographer Galen Rowell together with a historical photo and an inspirational quote from John Muir."

The John Muir Youth Award is a new, ongoing project of the Sierra Club Environmental Education Committee. For information about bringing the John Muir Youth Award to your school or youth group, contact: Sierra Club Environmental Education Committee, P.O. Box 3543, Visalia, CA 93291; harold.wood@sierraclub.org .


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