Middle school students gardening

Conservation Crew
Youth Program

Conservation Crew Conservation Minnesota

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Schools are accepted on a rolling basis until all spots are filled. 

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About the Crew

Conservation Crew is a student-led extracurricular school program for middle schoolers. Rooted in service learning, students develop leadership skills by designing and implementing conservation projects to impact their schools and communities. The program provides the support and resources students need to succeed.

Using a student-led model ensures participants learn about conservation issues that affect their daily lives and feel empowered to find solutions. Each Crew decides on its own interests and is given the resources to create a plan that fits its needs, including a $3,000 teacher stipend, connection to Conservation Minnesota staff, and industry experts. The hands-on learning model encourages students to research, understand, and ultimately take action to improve conservation initiatives in their communities.

Conservation Crew serves students at schools across the state. In the 2023-2024 school year, the program has grown to over 33 schools statewide—51% of which are Title 1 schools.

Check out the latest updates in our Conservation Crew newsletter!

Program Values

Much of the program design and implementation is determined by the students, helping to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They decide the best approach to fit their school and community. This mirrors the local control and agency we want students to feel when it comes to addressing conservation issues.

By engaging and informing youth through a service-learning model about conservation, we are building their feelings of ownership and responsibility to lead in their schools, communities, and world.

Environmental issues disproportionately affect low-income and BIPOC communities, yet these communities are usually left out of the solutions. We strive to shift this by introducing students in these communities to conservation concepts at a young age, educating them about the issues and supporting them in developing the leadership skills to advocate for changes that will improve their quality of life and their community.

Low-income schools often lack the resources for high-quality, out-of-school programs like Conservation Crew, so we provide staff support, program materials, and funding to address this opportunity gap.

Conservation Crew is a way for youth to learn and understand more about the natural world around their school and community. The program fosters a lifelong connection to nature by allowing students to find the conservation issues that are important to them. Research shows that children who spend more time outdoors connecting to nature have improved concentration, productivity, and mental health.

The program is set up to give students the tools they need to tackle the conservation issues that matter to them by connecting them to local experts and providing project funding. Crew also supports teachers through a $3,000 stipend, helping alleviate financial barriers.

Each Crew will have an opportunity to share their unique project with other Crews from all across the state. At the end of the school year, a panel of experts will select three outstanding projects from participating schools and award an additional grant to support future activities.

2023 Conservation Crew Project Winners

  • Protecting Water Resources Achieve Language Academy in St. Paul focused on the effects of microplastics in our waterways. Using Beaver Lake as a case study for their project, students learned how to take water samples and measure plastic levels using filters to capture microplastics. Students also collected garbage around the shoreline to protect the lake’s wildlife and plants. To showcase the impact of plastic used at the school, the students organized an all-school collection of plastic bottle caps. They collected 24,700 plastic caps and created sculptures of a sea turtle and jellyfish, which was displayed outside the school’s main office. Achieve Language Academy Crew members hope their work will inspire community members to take better care of water resources and are excited to use the prize money to continue their work at Beaver Lake.
  • Recycling for the Earth Students from Black Hawk Middle School in Eagan focused on creating a strong recycling program. To help reduce waste, they implemented several new programs, including improving recycling bin signage, creating a plastic bag collection site, and hosting a clothing and shoe donation drive. Black Hawk Middle School Crew used Earth Month to educate the student body on the importance of recycling with weekly school announcements and educational videos on Dakota County’s school recycling program. They organized a conservation scavenger hunt using an interactive smartphone option to engage fellow students.
  • Protecting Green Spaces Students from Lake Middle School in Woodbury spent this year revitalizing their school’s forest. The Crew started by removing invasive buckthorn and cleaning up the garbage on the forest floor. Students also increased native species for pollinators on school grounds and learned how to grow hydroponics. The Crew plans to do more trash clean-ups, plant additional native species, remove more invasive buckthorn, and increase accessibility in the school forest through wheelchair accessible paths next year.
  • Cycling for Change Crew students at John Adams Middle School in Rochester noticed many of their classmates had broken bicycles and decided they would provide peers with tools and knowledge to increase the number of bicycle commuters. With help from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Olmsted County Parks & Recreation, students created a school and community Fixit station with an air pump. By connecting with local experts, students learned what bike resources they needed and how to pick a central location that would be visible for the whole community to use.

“Facilitating an after-school environmental club has been a dream of mine for many years but I was intimidated trying to figure it all out  alone. Conservation Crew provided us with the resources and support in getting it started, and to keep it going.”

—Shelbee Jaeger, Hiawatha Academies teacher

Backing Up the Crew

Conservation Minnesota is dedicated to protecting the people and places we love. We invest in programs that equip leaders of today and tomorrow to care for our natural resources.

Conservation Crew is generously supported by a grant from the Manitou Fund, Xcel Energy, CenterPoint Energy, and the George Family Foundation.

Contact Us

Contact crew@conservationminnesota.org with questions about Conservation Crew.