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Article updated: 11/28/2012 10:39 PM

Elgin council approves unexpectedly contentious nature program

By Tara García Mathewson

After three different meetings and plenty of discussion among Elgin City Council members, local elementary-age students will have a chance at extra ecology lessons at the Hawthorne Hill Nature Center.

The council approved a $9,500 agreement Wednesday with Naperville-based Conservation Foundation, which will give one class two field trips this school year and two classes three field trips each next school year through the Mighty Acorns program. Besides the days spent at the nature center, the students will have an equal number of in-class sessions and their teachers will get supplemental materials to incorporate the ecology work into their curriculum.

Councilmembers John Prigge and Anna Moeller voted against the proposal in October. Prigge strongly opposed paying for transportation on top of funding the program itself, arguing the school district should pay for busing. Moeller agreed, adding that the $9,500 cost seemed too high for the number of students who would benefit from the program.

Prigge's was the only dissenting vote Wednesday night when the agreement with the Conservation Foundation was up for final approval.

Todd Martin, a member of the city's sustainability commission, told council members teachers at Hillcrest Elementary School were committed to the program if it were funded, meaning no transportation costs would be necessary because students could walk to the nature center.

"It's the commission's opinion that Hawthorne Nature Center is underutilized," Martin said. "It's a tremendous resource."

The sustainability commission discussed the partnership at its September meeting.

The field trips would give kids the chance to see how natural areas change throughout the year and offer hands-on learning opportunities related to conservation and restoring native habitat.

Moeller said the program had a greater benefit to both students and teachers than she first thought and changed her vote based on the expectation that transportation costs would not be necessary if Hillcrest students participated.

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