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Julie’s Story

Posted: 2:32PM March 23rd, 2015 | Comments

Julie Jarvis, Sustainable Schools 

My sustainability story begins on the shores of Lake Michigan. Growing up just a short distance from the lake, I spent countless days swimming in her cool waters, relaxing on her beaches, climbing her sand dunes and skiing her coastal forests. Over the years, I developed a strong connection with the natural environment that I have carried with me as I moved across the country, living in different states and ecosystems. Through the ups and downs of life, experiences in nature continue to bring me joy, peace, and feelings of belonging and connection.

It was this love of nature that led me to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to study ecology. Although I thoroughly enjoyed learning the science of ecosystems, I longed to share the experience of nature with others. I spent my early adulthood as an environmental educator at nature centers, outdoor schools and on back country trails and rivers hoping to help kids not only learn about nature, but also develop their own relationship with nature.

The more kids I took outside, however, the more I saw how disconnected so many of them were from themselves and each other. I returned to school to study school counseling. As a school counselor working in a large urban elementary school, and then as a therapist at a Day Treatment Program, I worked to help children understand themselves and others, cultivate empathy and kindness, and develop problem-solving and coping skills.

It is my firm belief that the health of human communities and the health of natural systems are inseparable. I struggled however, to connect my ‘ecologist’ self with my ‘counselor’ self. Until I came to Sustain Dane. As the Director of Sustain Dane’s Sustainable Schools Initiative, every day I get to support sustainability champions in local schools educating for sustainability. Along with their students, these champions are implementing energy reduction campaigns, bolstering and expanding school recycling efforts, establishing composting programs, and starting idling reduction campaigns.  With the help of their communities and the GROW Coalition, these sustainability champions are establishing outdoor classrooms. They are planting vegetable gardens, building outdoor performance spaces, restoring native habitats, and creating outdoor gathering places. And, most importantly, they are taking kids outside for hands-on, mind-on learning. In the outdoor classroom, not only are kids learning their school curriculum, but they are also learning about themselves and their connection to their community and the natural environment.

I feel honored to support the work of these sustainability champions who are helping give the youngest of our citizens the skills, knowledge and experiences to create thriving communities and healthy environments. It is because of their work, that I have faith that our society will be more just and our environment healthier on into the future. Thank you. 

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