Featured Friend: Michelle Soland

Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall, all you have to do is callMichelle Soland

Michelle taking hands-on science as literally as possible.

Some people are just special.  It’s really that simple.  Meet Michelle Soland, veteran Friend of the Fox River.  She has been a Friends of the Fox River (FOTFR) staple for close to ten years, developing, leading, and assisting with the coordination of FOTFR education programs.  Most recently, Michelle has taken on the role of nurturing our newest partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Dundee Township. 

Michelle learns side-by-side with children on a field trip to All Grass Farms, a community-based sustainable food producer.

Michelle is a retired 3rd grade teacher who worked in School District 300 in the north-central portion of our watershed for her 30+ years of teaching.  Her relationship with FOTFR began in 1995 when her school (and now Boys and Girls Club site, Perry Elementary) collaborated with now FOTFR President Gary Swick during his tenure as an environmental science teacher at Dundee Crown High School. 

The common threads that inspired Michelle Soland and Gary Swick to work together then, keep them working together to this day.  Michelle and Gary are fiercely driven to actively engage kids in learning through hands-on, real-world experiences. They also share the underlying notion that each of us, adult and child, has a responsibility to care for each other and our environment.  Michelle and Gary have been collaborating ever since and this pedagogical style and educational philosophy forms the basis of the FOTFR educational programs as we know them today. 

How can kids really understand plant adaptations for survival? Michelle brought cactuses for touching as we read aloud Cactus Hotel.

From the stories Michelle tells and the context she adds to planning and coordinating outdoor education, it is clear that Michelle’s students were constantly given opportunities to engage in hands-on learning in big ways. Fox example, her student-driven family energy fair at Westfield School was featured on WGN. Our summer camp program model for primary grade children was largely her design.  Each session included an environmental book to read aloud, an activity that related to the book, and a hike to observe and discuss ideas and elements from the story in the real world. 

Although the attitude that “no work is beneath me” is becoming more uncommon in our human culture, Michelle lives by it every day.  Beyond the work that lets her expertise in teaching shine, she is also a bonafide worker bee.  She has gardened at the Schweitzer Woods Bee sanctuary, led stream study field trips, cleaned and organized materials and equipment for countless events, generously shopped around and purchased supplies, came out for river cleanups every year, and so much more.  She is a dedicated volunteer and never asks for a thing in return. On the contrary, she also donates her money to support the work that we do.

Michelle’s interpretive stops for teachable moments on hikes are a must.

Michelle’s laser focus on children’s learning and leading healthy lives is in lockstep with our values at Friends of the Fox River.  A strong, supportive community is important to everyone.  Michelle continues to take ownership of her community role as educator by facilitating meaningful outdoor experiences for children.  Some people might call Michelle an “angel” or a “gift” to humankind. Yes to both, but there must be a word that also encompasses the spirit of a warrior, the reliability of a support-system, and the positive energy of a teammate. One who is very humble, but also is locally famous. Add that all up and now you know what we truly mean when we say we are blessed that Michelle Soland is our legendary Friend.

If you have a “take ownership” story or want to join our team of educators, please email us at info@friendsofthefoxriver.org