Learning how to care for our shared ecosystem


November 2021 … “Nature is not a toy,” a river expert recently told the Healthy Trailblazer Journal. “The river is alive and is always moving.”

Joanne Douglas is the youth program manager at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia which is a public garden on the banks of the Schuylkill. 

She teaches high school students about the river environment. They learn how to take care of it and how to be safe when boating or doing other activities.

“We live on this Earth,” she said. “We are part of an ecosystem, part of a team. To be a good team member, you need to learn about nature to understand it.” 

Health experts also say spending time in nature can benefit people’s health. It also can reduce stress and isolation and lower blood pressure. It can help memory, encourage you to move, and improve your mood, according to health experts.

“Children and teenagers need to be outside,” Ms. Douglas said via Zoom. “We stay on technology and phones all the time. And we don’t get enough nature.”

When you are outside, “you are getting fresh air. Your brain and body need that fresh air. And you can learn a lot by looking at trees and nature,” she continued.

Ms. Douglas said she liked going outside when she was a kid. She lived near rivers in Detroit and Philadelphia. Her fifth grade teacher also inspired her love of nature, she said. She said her teacher turned straight lessons into fun activities. 

She said she always wondered what was happening underneath the surface of the river. It piqued her curiosity. “I like to be outside a lot,” she said. “Mostly I like to be near the water and watch it and think about what’s underneath it.”

She said the river also speaks to her, not in words, but in feelings. 

“Even when the river is moving really fast, there are waves, or it is messy from a storm, it goes back to normal,” she said. 

“The river doesn’t say ‘hello, how are you doing,’” she added. “It is always there to teach a lesson” such as how to relax and slow down, she said.

Ms. Douglas said she observes nature to try to understand it. The outdoors has no limits, she said. When she goes outdoors, she said she always learns something new. She doesn’t wear headphones, preferring to listen to nature’s sounds and creating her own stories.

“When you are out [in nature], no walk is the same. It makes you think and use imagination,” she said. You can identify plants. You can visit a park. “It’s a shame to sit inside,” she said. “There is so much to do.”                        

By Healthy Trailblazer Journal eighth-grade reporters at The DePaul Catholic School in Philadelphia