Friends of ECOS have a new friend: Springfield City Council supports quest to reopen winter survival

Read the original MassLive story by Pete Goonan here or below.

SPRINGFIELD -- Friends of ECOS, a grassroots group that promotes a popular environmental education program at Forest Park, has an additional "friend" in its quest to ensure that the "Winter Survival" program at the park is open to all sixth graders.

At a meeting Monday, the City Council voted unanimously to join Friends of ECOS in asking the School Committee, the School Department and the Empowerment School Zone Board "to consider strategies that will result in the attendance at ECOS of all Springfield public school students."

The Friends group learned this school year that more than 1,300 sixth graders who attend Empowerment Zone schools are missing out on the two-day Winter Survival class that is part of the Environmental Center for Our Schools (ECOS) program. The Empowerment Zone targets struggling schools and has an added focus on testing that does not include testing students on ECOS.

ECOS is housed at the newly renovated and expanded Clifford A. Phaneuf Environmental Center. The Friends of ECOS consists of ECOS alumni, teachers, parents, students, residents and other supporters.

In Winter Survival, students "learn the science of heat transfer and thermodynamics in the real life challenging scenarios of fire-building and shwlter-making," Friends of ECOS stated a recent letter to the School Committee and other elected officials, requesting district-wide participation.

Councilor Kateri Walsh, a member of the Friends group, told councilors the two-day program provides "hands-on" experience and "gives kids an opportunity to shine." Several councilors echoed her support and said they have fond personal memories of the entire ECOS program.

Councilor Adam Gomez said the program is "near and dear to my heart" and counters the trend of youth being attached to their computer tablets and cellphones.

Councilor Jesse Lederman said he believes the children missing out on the program are the ones who need it the most as it provides team-building and leadership skills.

Burt Freedman, a retired longtime educator in the ECOS program and co-chairman of the Friends group, said there has been strong public support for the program including students who participated in the program, which begin in the 1970s. He shared many pages of Facebook comments with the council at Monday's meeting.

Freedman said he and others believe that ECOS must be a district-wide program. with Winter Survival offered to all sixth graders.

"I think it is something that can be worked out," Freedman said. "I'm really heartbroken so many students are missing out. It's something you keep in your memory for your whole life. It gives students an opportunity to do something hard, work together and get it done."

The lessons learned outside "translate to the classroom," he said.

The City Council resolution states that more than 200,000 Springfield residents have participated in ECOS, but that only about 75 percent of sixth graders will participate in Winter Survival this year.

ECOS has received awards from the Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs as "an excellent environmental education program," the council resolution states.

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