Working Through S.C.A.L.E. Program Finale - A Return to Ritual at The Commons

On November 3, 2018, Sweet Water Foundation hosted teens from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for a final cross-city collaboration for the Working Through S.C.A.L.E. (Sustainable Collaborations Across Living Ecologies) Program. The year-long partnership between Sweet Water Foundation and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has engaged youth in the process of investigating their surrounding ecologies and collaborating with other youth across the City of Chicago. During this final meeting, the teens spent the day preparing The Commons for winter and returning to ritual alongside the SWF team, teens, and community members. Read on to learn more about the day’s activities.


A busload of teens from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum arrived at The Commons before 10 am and met in the Thought Barn for a breakdown of the day’s activities. The teens split up into teams to help prepare The Commons for winter. One group, engaged with children who at the end of the International Puppet Theater Festival Neighborhood Tour’s performance of Tomte to make puppets. During the puppet show, the teens had an opportunity to witness one of the many ways technology can be used to share stories and connect with others. The other groups helped out on the Perry Ave Community Farm and in the Work-Shop. On the farm, the teens worked alongside the SWF team to prepare the farm for winter - laying down wood chips and pruning the remaining collard and kale plants. While the majority of the teens had been to The Commons for the “Becoming Citizen Scientists” day, teens continued to use iNaturalist to identify and learn more about the nature around them.

Return to Ritual
Although the main goal of the Working Through S.C.A.L.E. program was to engage teens in a cross-city collaboration using open science hardware, the program’s overarching purpose was to reconnect teens to their environment and each other.  The closing activity of the Working Through S.C.A.L.E. program engaged teens in the ancient ritual of threshing; separating the seeds or grain of a plant from its chaff, husk, or straw.  Amaranth is a highly nutritious plant with rich history that grows in abundance at The Commons. In some cultures amaranth was used during rituals, eaten, and used to make dye. At the end of the growing season, SWF’s core team began the process of “returning to ritual” by learning how to separate the chaff from the grain. On November 3, teens were introduced to threshing to slow down and return to ritual. While the process of preserving amaranth seeds did not incorporate technology, it provided the teens with the opportunity to reconnect with the environment, themselves, and one another.

Sweet Water Foundation would like to thank the Chicago Learning Exchange for its support of the Working Through S.C.A.L.E. Program and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for working on this project with us over the past year.

Courtney Hug