Each April in southern Illinois, coinciding with Arbor Day, age K-6th grade students participate in Stewardship Week, a two-day outdoor education event for children to take hikes and study the environment, from bees and invasive plants to electricity and wildlife trapping. More than 100 professionals host stations on their areas of expertise, providing hands-on activities to more than 1,500 students each year.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the event on April 24, 25 at the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center. Just like every year for the past 30, Joe Devera, senior paleontologist at the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), will be back to share his knowledge and love of fossils with inquiring young minds.
What is your role during Stewardship Week?
A. I run the Earth Science Station at Stewardship Week. In the past, other ISGS staff and I have talked at this event, but I have been involved every year since the beginning in 1989. In the past, we have given talks on dinosaurs, earthquakes, volcanoes, rocks, fossils, and minerals. My son and I made the volcano that we used for demonstrations for a number of years. Lately, I have been bringing examples of minerals, fossils, and rocks found in Illinois. I mainly talk about earth history and the procession of life through time with fossils.
Why have you participated in this event every year for 30 years?
A. I have always been committed to outreach. I used to travel to grade schools and high schools throughout the state, but when this event started it brought together schools from 14 different counties from the downstate area. It was very efficient and well managed. Stewardship Week was a success from the very beginning.
What are some of the best reactions from the children?
A. Out of numerous stations, the children really seem to enjoy the Earth Science Station because kids like to imagine the ancient past and learn how minerals form, etc. They have an abiding interest in dinosaurs, to know what they looked like and how they lived. For me, the best part of the event is watching a third grader’s eyes light up when I hold up a fossil claw of a Spinosaurus dinosaur from Morocco or a large royal purple crystal of fluorite (the state mineral).
Have you seen students’ interests change throughout the years?
A. The interest level seems to be consistent through time. The subject matter is probably the reason. The prehistoric past always captures and marvels the imagination of people of all ages.
Stewardship Week is sponsored by a partnership of University of Illinois Extension, U of I Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, and the Office of Research.