Started in 2023, WeReclaim! is a STEAM-based program for area elementary students that asks them to illustrate what a healthy, sustainable world should look like.
WeReclaim! began with a conversation between EC’s Director of Communications, Elizabeth Hughes, and a colleague, Beth Burkhauser, a former art teacher who now heads the Interdependence Hexagon Project. Started in 2006, the international Hexagon Project uses the visual arts to promote interdependence and global citizenship; the hexagon – like the cells within a honeycomb – symbolizing interconnectedness. The 2023 theme, Burkhauser explained, was environmental justice. Hughes recognized how it and EC’s work clearly aligned.
While most of EC’s efforts involve mine land reclamation, community outreach has always been part of our work. Often, during our interactions, we find students (and adults!) unaware of the region’s industrial past and the enduring environmental damages it wrought. EC was founded with the belief that local stakeholders should have a say in what happens to local lands. But to analyze problems and move forward with solutions, there must be knowledge. WeReclaim! seeks to start the conversation and, importantly, do so with the younger members of the community. Ultimately, they will be the stewards of the land.
Elizabeth reached out to the SHINE Program, an afterschool program operating in six school districts in Luzerne County. SHINE was highly receptive to partnering on this new endeavor, and through discussion, WeReclaim! was fleshed out. Each program cohort participates in five hands-on, STEAM-based lessons, which integrate science and the arts. Topics include local ecosystems, local mining history, and reclamation and land use planning. The lessons also reinforce the Hexagon Project’s emphasis on interconnection, as all these elements have intertwined to create the story of the region. Based on that learning, each student then produces a mixed-media collage artwork depicting what they would like to see in their community and/or for a better earth. An image of each child is part of the creation, identifying it as their vision. On display, their interconnected pieces will “reclaim” a vision for well-being in the community.
We’re happy to share our lesson plans with you. Although our focus is on anthracite mining in northeastern Pennsylvania, ecosystems and industry in your region could easily be substituted. Each lesson, with supporting resources and references, is available as a pdf below. Visit the Interdependence Hexagon Project’s website if you’re interested in participating in 2024. Other questions? Send an email to the program director, Elizabeth W. Hughes, EdD.