Forest Lake Schools chart path to a greener future

Lakes International Language Academy & Forest Lake Area High School both gain recognition for environmental initiatives

The fourth grade students at Lakes International Language Academy (LILA) have been learning a lot about water this year. “We have a science unit about matter and have focused on water throughout the year,” explains teacher Roberto Izquierdo. “It lines up well with our school’s emphasis on inquiry-based learning, and has allowed us to incorporate hands-on lessons and make connections with real life issues in our community.” The students have stenciled storm drains near their school to educate the public about stormwater pollution; they’ve had guest presentations from staff at the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District; they journeyed to the St. Croix River for a field trip led by the St. Croix River Association; and have written letters to their friends and family to share ideas for protecting water. “The kids have really internalized what they learned,” says Izquierdo. “Early in the year, they made graphs to show how much water they use at home, and even now, they’ll come in and brag to me about taking shorter showers to save water.”

03LILA Chalk Artists
Fourth grade students at Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake have been learning about water and spreading the word about how to keep water clean.

Izquierdo credits fellow teacher Kelley Dunbar for LILA’s water and environmental focus. Over the past several years, Dunbar has reached out to local partners, including the watershed district and St. Croix River Association, to make connections. The school’s fourth-grade teachers got additional ideas after attending a Project WET workshop hosted by Minnesota DNR and the East Metro Water Resource Education Program last year. This year, the fourth-grade teachers and students were officially recognized by the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District as Watershed Champions for their stewardship efforts. “Everyone’s very excited and proud of the award,” Izquierdo says. “And the kids got to celebrate with a pizza party.”

LILA isn’t the only school in Forest Lake to gain recognition for its environmental initiatives this year. This May, U.S. Department of Education included Forest Lake Area High School in a list of 35 “Green Ribbon Schools” nationwide that are reducing environmental impact, improving health and wellness by promoting a healthy physical environment, and offering effective environmental education. In its award, the Department of Education noted the high school’s new energy efficiency and water conservation measures, as well as student volunteerism, science-based climate change education curriculum, and agricultural courses in fish and wildlife management, natural-resources science, alternative energies, and animal-sciences. Forest Lake is the only school in Minnesota to make the list this year.

Stormwater tour at Forest Lake High, Sept 2018
During a workshop in September 2018, city council and local leaders learned about a new stormwater reuse project under development at the Forest Lake Area High School.

Like LILA, Forest Lake Area High School has partnered with its local watershed district – in this case the Rice Creek Watershed District – to develop water-themed curriculum and complete water protection projects at the school. Over the past two years, the school has worked with the city and Rice Creek Watershed District to design and install a stormwater reuse system that will save 4.1 million gallons of groundwater a year and keep 20lbs per year of phosphorus out of Clear Lake. The project gained additional funding support from a Minnesota Clean Water Fund grant.

During a tour for city council and local leaders last fall, teacher Mike Miron talked about new hands-on curriculum teachers have created that focuses on groundwater, watersheds, and engineering technology.  “We have the benefit of taking students out of the classroom to experience something real and hands-on,” Miron explained. “We want to get kids thinking about real world problems and engage them as citizens, not just students.” In fact, it was students in the school’s environmental club that pursued the Green Ribbon certification. The kids researched the high school’s sustainability efforts and pulled together data and information for the application. The environmental club has also led efforts to implement a lunchtime food share program, train custodial staff on sidewalk salting best practices, educate fellow students about topics such as recycling and climate change, and plant native pollinator plants on campus.


Staff from both watershed districts hope that this year’s awards will inspire other local schools to pursue new environmental initiatives. As for the kids in Forest Lake, they’re happily charting a course to a greener – and bluer – future.