Casals School of Excellence teacher Sarah Reardon poses for a portrait with some of her fifth grade students. Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago

HUMBOLDT PARK — Tropical rainforests may be a long way from Chicago, but a group of Humboldt Park fifth-graders is on a mission to bring more awareness to the rapid destruction of the world’s vital and biologically rich forests.

A group of 10- and 11-year-old students at Casals School of Excellence, 3501 W. Potomac Ave., studied rainforests around the world for an expeditionary learning project this school year. The students then launched a multi-faceted campaign around safeguarding rainforests, urging the school community to do its part.

Much of the world’s rainforests are being destroyed by logging or wood harvesting, agricultural expansion and urbanization and fires exacerbated by climate change.

The Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, saw a record rate of deforestation in the first half of 2022, according to Reuters.

The destruction could have dire consequences on our society. Rainforests are vitally important to the health of the planet, regulating the world’s climate, keeping air clean, creating biodiversity and much more.

Casals students made flowers out of recycled materials for the rainforest project. Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago

Casals students got involved by reading “The Most Beautiful Roof in the World: Exploring the Rainforest,” a book by Kathryn Lasky about a journeying scientist, along with articles and texts about rainforests, said teacher Sarah Reardon.

The students created a video about protecting rainforests, and the video greets people when they walk into the school at 3501 W. Potomac Ave. Down the hall is the students’ mini gallery with colorful rainforest paintings and flowers made with recycled materials.

Also as part of the project, the fifth-graders sent letters to corporations accused of damaging the environment, such as Pepsi Co. and Nestlé, created infographic handouts, launched a social media campaign and convinced the whole school to wear green for Earth Day.

“Initially, kids were saying, ‘Let’s tell people to stop cutting down trees,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know about you, but I haven’t cut down a tree ever, so what’s something for us that fits in Chicago?’ That’s when we came up with spreading awareness on social media, making recycled art,” Reardon said.

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Casals enrolls just over 390 students, a majority of them low-income and Hispanic, according to Chicago Public Schools.

Students said the rainforest project was empowering. They plan to host a pep rally soon to keep the momentum going.

“I learned that I like helping my community and doing what’s right,” 11-year-old Jalissa Gibbs said.

Emmalie Rowe, 11, said the students came out of the project with a passion for the environment.

“This makes me feel proud of myself because I know that in some way, somehow, I’m making — not a big impact — but an impact on the world. And it might be changing something later on,” Rowe said.

“The rainforest is so important to us. It’s a vital source for the human race to survive, and every day it’s becoming more and more unsuitable for us to use. … We’re not treating it like it’s important, but it is. We feel like we wanted that to change by doing what we did.”

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Logan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.orgnnLogan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale Twitter @mina_bloom_