As friendly habitats go, it's hard to beat the earth. And as educational environments go, it's hard to beat EarthWorks.
EarthWorks is Kansas City's latest educational science facility. Located in the city's Hunt Midwest Subtropolis, it is the offspring of The Learning Exchange, a not-for-profit educational organization. A $500,000 grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation and donations from the Hall Family Foundation, the Sosland Foundation, the H & R Block Foundation and Hunt Midwest made this project possible.
"Those five partners will be committed to keeping it at the cutting edge," says Conservation Commissioner Anita Gorman.
EarthWorks is a school-based program, allowing third- and fourth-graders from participating schools to take part. But it is hardly a one-day field trip. Instead, EarthWorks is a six-week classroom plan that introduces students to key environmental concepts.
"That's one of the things that makes this unique; it's not just a field trip, but part of an overall curriculum," adds Gorman.
As a part of the six-week schedule, kids spend a day at the facility where they conduct experiments as junior scientists in each of five habitats: Prairie, Forest, Pond, Soil and Cave. The program includes live animals, and there is a butterfly garden where youngsters can walk among the fluttering insects.
"The visuals are just fabulous," says Gorman. "It's Missouri! You don't have to use your imagination."
The laboratory covers 35,000 square feet and can handle 75 students a day and 10,000 annually. The youngsters work in teams. They learn how people have a responsibility for the environment and how humans, animals and plants depend on one another.
"This is the best educational tool for children that I've seen anywhere," says Gorman. "It is especially impressive in that it teaches the thing we want to teach: that we all fit together in this world."