A Simple Question looks at an innovative program that brings together students of all ages, their teachers, community groups and local land-owners to undertake habitat restoration and preserve endangered species. STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed) is a national model for involving students in hands-on, place-based environmental education.
The film documents the modest beginnings of the program, how it works, and the impact it has on the students and the habitat they work to restore.
When California teacher Laurette Rogers showed a video on endangered species to her 4th grade class in the 1990's, one student plaintively asked what his class could do to help prevent species extinction. That simple question launched Rogers and her class on an inspired voyage of discovery and transformation.
The students decided they would help to save the obscure, endangered California freshwater shrimp. The effort to save the shrimp became the classroom theme that inspired their cross-disciplinary learning for an entire year. The class divided into teams to learn all that they could -- conducting research, interviewing experts, creating databases, calling legislators, and presenting their findings in public forums and a legislative hearing.
A local rancher, on whose property the shrimp once thrived, agreed to allow the class to plant willow trees to help shore up the banks of the creek on his land. The first skinny willow shoots Rogers' class planted in the early 90's are now a riparian forest some 20-25 feet high. They shade a meandering stream, creating the ideal habitat for the shrimp and a canopy that lured 25 species of native birds, 18 of whom are rare and endangered.
Having witnessed the dramatic changes on the rancher's property, others clamored for similar restoration work on their land. Since then, more than 25,000 students of all grade levels have participated in over 300 restoration projects. In the film, Rogers' former students describe how the experience changed and empowered them.
What began in Rogers' classroom has morphed into a transformative science and environmental education curriculum that takes learning outside the classroom. It transforms teachers, who are looking for meaning and joy in their work; and It transforms students, by engaging them in real work that they can see makes a difference on the immediate world around them.
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