See Cathy and her students exploring nature at Lulu Lake.
When I called Cathy Chybowski at her home in Dousman, she was filling her hummingbird feeders and making salsa from tomatoes she’d grown in her garden. I didn’t know it yet, but that moment encapsulated two of Cathy’s great passions in life—nature and living sustainably.
Cathy grew up on a farm in Kenosha County where she learned from her parents what it takes to raise your own food. Her mom, an avid bird-watcher, also shared her love of birds and plants with Cathy and her siblings, teaching them to love and care for nature at an early age.
As a science teacher at Kettle Moraine High School, Cathy has, in turn, shared her passion for the natural world with her students and given them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the outdoors.
For almost 15 years, Cathy taught Advanced Placement Environmental Science (affectionately known as APES), an interdisciplinary course that combines science with economics, political science and environmental ethics. Topics range from ecology and sustainable agriculture to human health and energy.
The Nature Conservancy’s Lulu Lake Preserve near Eagle in Walworth and Waukesha counties has served as an outdoor classroom for Cathy and her students since 1997.
“There’s no substitute for getting kids outside in hip boots, wading in the river and taking water samples,” Cathy commented.
“Where you teach is as important as what you teach,” she added, “and Lulu Lake is the premier outdoor classroom. We have discussed so many topics there from ecology and geology to water quality and restoration.”
As part of her class, Cathy encouraged her students to give back to their communities. She and her students have been regular volunteers at Nature Conservancy work parties, removing invasive shrubs like honeysuckle and buckthorn, building and maintaining trails and conducting bird and plant surveys.
Some of Cathy’s students, like Andy Muench, have spent their summers interning with the Conservancy. Andy was a Conservancy intern in 2010 and will be a freshman in Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall.
“Lulu is just an amazing environment to learn in,” Andy said. “It is one of the finest freshwater habitats in southeastern Wisconsin. A day of work at The Nature Conservancy never really seemed like work. I actually took time off my job this summer to go back to Lulu and volunteer for fun.”
Evan Eifler, another APES alum and Nature Conservancy intern, was inspired by his experiences to pursue an environmental career.
“APES and The Nature Conservancy internship found me at a pivotal time in my life,” Evan said. “It was right at that point where I started seriously considering my future goals. Both APES and my internship showed me how to appreciate nature and taught me that I needed to pursue a career in conservation to be truly happy.”
Today, Evan is a student at UW–Madison majoring in the Biological Aspects of Conservation, and he works in a research lab on campus.
Cathy retired from Kettle Moraine High School this year, but she believes she will teach again at some point in the future.
“Teaching is an awesome responsibility,” she said, “but it’s also very rewarding. My APES students are so creative and innovative. They make me feel very positive and hopeful about the future.”