FEATURE — 25 Years of Earth Wellness Festival: A Generation of Students Have Learned Value of Environmental Resources

Do the Rot Thing presented by Extension Master Gardener volunteers. (Photo by Vicki Jedlicka, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County)
Do the Rot Thing presented by Extension Master Gardener volunteers. (Photo by Vicki Jedlicka, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County)

2019 marks 25 years of earth wellness festival (ewf). This environmental education program was started in 1994 as the result of a petition request of 325 local teachers who wanted an environmental festival in their own community.

Extension Associate Soni Cochran, one of the original co-chairs and current member of the ewf steering committee, says, “It’s hard to imagine that the fifth graders who attended the first earth wellness festival in 1998 are now in their 30s. Twenty-six years ago, 10 local organizations came together to brainstorm an environmental program for area students. We had no idea that 25 festivals later, ewf would have impacted 77,000 youth. This legacy continues today as the festival helps youth understand their role as future stewards of our environmental resources.”

ewf is an annual event offered to fifth-grade students in Lancaster County. Students rotate among 25-minute sessions and then attend a culminating activity with raptors from World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis.

Students discover and explore the relationships and interdependency of land, water, air and living resources through hands-on activities. ewf is part of the Lincoln Public Schools science curriculum.

This year, ewf was held March 20 and 21 at Southeast Community College. Over 3,600 fifth graders from 47 schools attended, including all 40 LPS elementary schools, 4 parochial schools, Waverly, Eagle and Bennet. Sessions were led by over 100 presenters from 34 organizations, schools and businesses. Over 50 volunteers acted as classroom guides. Lower Platte South Natural Resources District provided major funding. This year’s sponsors were Southeast Community College, Chase Suites, Lands for the Seventh Generation, Raising Cane’s, Runza, Lazlo’s Brewery & Grill and Hy-Vee.

This year’s festival was organized by six local agencies:
• Lower Platte South Natural Resources District
• Lincoln Public Schools
• Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department
• Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County
• UNL School of Natural Resources
• Southeast Community College – Lincoln.

A special thank you to the estimated 2,500 total instructors 1,300 volunteers and many sponsors who have made ewf successful for 25 years!

More photos from this year — and previous years — are online at https://www.flickr.com/photos/unlextlanco/collections/72157629416022064/

Teacher evaluations from this year’s festival rated 187 of 215 total sessions (87%) as “Excellent” and 27 sessions (12.5%) as “Good.”

Teachers were asked “Besides Raptors, which classroom activity were your students most engaged with?” Some of the responses included:
• “All activities engaged students.”
• “All were great and hands on.”
• “All — Great presentations/activities.”
• “All — Kids love interactive lessons.”
• “Lincoln Children’s Zoo (my kids voted).”
• “Interested in all, but motivated by Poisons 2 Pollutions game.”
• “Very engaging all around. My students were intrigued by Wow Wind.”

—By Vicki Jedlicka, Soni Cochran and McKenzie Barry