Connect and Protect: Introducing Heilicher’s Project Footprint

Connect and Protect: Introducing Heilicher’s Project Footprint

By Liba Zweigbaum Herman, Project Footprint Coordinator


(וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֶמָּתַי? (משנה אבות א:יד

“And if not now, when?” (Mishnah Avot 1:14)

The time to learn is now, the time to help another person is now; the time to care for our environment is now; because if we put it off, it may never happen.  

-Heilicher core value

As a parent at Heilicher for five years, I can say with genuine assurance that our school is truly a special and thriving place for our children. With dedicated educators and administrators, who continually cultivate enriching experiences for our children, an integrated curriculum of Jewish and secular learning, and a uniquely close-knit family community from around the Twin Cities, we are a living and breathing, multifaceted, school community.

As a long-time nature enthusiast, art educator, and experiential education facilitator, I continually found my attention drawn to the adjacent Eastern Broadleaf Forest, a.k.a. “the woods,” that nestles our JCC and school.

How can I get ALL these kids utilizing this outdoor classroom more? How can we build more environmental programming for our students on a regular basis, especially those busy upper schoolers? Well-renowned journalist and author Richard Louv, who is committed to connecting children and families to nature, states that, “The more high-tech our world becomes, the more nature we need.” For many reasons, I believe this to my core.

Our school already incorporates several nature-based experiences in the curriculum—the lower school Taschlich walk to Brownie Lake, the first graders’ sacred butterfly unit, and the sixth graders trip to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, to name a few. Despite this, my dream for greater integration grew stronger, as had our family’s commitment to this school. So humbly, yet tenaciously my quest became active and Project Footprint was born.

Created to build on the school’s STEAM/inquiry-based learning initiatives, Project Footprint challenges and empowers students and staff at Heilicher to enhance their environmental awareness and personal connection to nature promoting self-stewardship and advocacy for their communities.

Gardening Initiative Gathers STEAM
Along with our beloved (and recently retired) Helen Siegel and Arete Academy teacher Curtis Wilson, a Wellness Wednesday gardening kitah is in its fourth session. Students from grades  1-4 are getting their hands dirty, exploring the vast biological and cultural web of life in the living soil of compost, harvesting fresh produce for our dining room, discovering food justice, and having a blast!

The timing of our excellent STEAM initiative couldn’t be better. This inquiry-based model and changing mindset directly states the importance for children and educators to stretch themselves intellectually and emotionally emphasizing that environmental integration is an ideal setting for this life-long learning. 

For those who were not able to attend Patti Born’s talk at our Town Hall last month, I strongly encourage you to check out the video. She stated that “the most successful, long-term, school STEAM integrations are the communities that have solid staff and parent support, utilizing their parent skill base.” 

Waste Right Recycling and Organics Introduced
That said, with a grant from Hennepin County and the go-ahead from Yoni and Maia, my college job of Recycling Coordinator at the University of Minnesota has resurfaced in full glory.

Following our efforts of Teshuva to “do better” this coming year, entering into the harvest season of Sukkot, our school’s new “Waste Right” system began Monday, October 2.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with each classroom to empower our students to play a vital role in minimizing their waste and lightening their footprint. I am asking them why and how these efforts are important as Jews and citizens of our planet. The children are energized at the chance to do a mitzvah and think about their stewardship each time they discard something. This system will have all new bins for full organics composting, mixed recycling, and landfill trash for the entire school.

Live Plants In Every Classroom
Live plants are now in every classroom to “plant” the seed for Heilicher’s Project Footprint going forward. It is truly an invitation for our entire community to “connect and protect.”

Chag Sameach

Connect & Protect • Project Footprint LOGO v3.jpg

  • Environmental Education
  • Experiential Education
  • Project Footprint

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