CRSN Offers Free Online Distance Learning

The Chicago River system is a wonderful tool for teaching science, history, culture, and personal responsibility. In this unprecedented school year, the Chicago River Schools Network (CRSN), the flagship education program of Friends of the Chicago River, has adapted its programming to include free online distance learning to support the many school districts in the Chicago region including the Chicago Public Schools.

Led by Mark Hauser, Friends' ecology outreach manager, the CRSN provides K-12 teachers with the training and personalized assistance they need to take their students on an adventure into the turbulent history, evolving ecology, and improving health of the Chicago River system. Students investigate real-world issues and create service learning projects designed to solve everyday problems facing the Chicago River.

With over 30 years as an environmental educator and service learning, Hauser is a certified interpreter with a master's degree in natural resources from The Ohio State University with a focus on environmental education. He has directed the CRSN since 2007 which has impacted more than 450,000 students and engaged over 1,800 teachers since it was founded in 1996.

Accessible on YouTube

The CRSN has a wide range of educational offerings which are accessible to educators via Friends' YouTube channel, such as presentations about river-related issues or virtual field trips recorded at river-edge sites. Teachers may also opt for live, virtual discussions with Hauser too. A list of the presentations is available in the Chicago River Distance Learning Form. Teachers can scan/send completed forms to Hauser at or email him with questions.

Next Generation Science Standards

Friends' programming aligns with current Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS focuses on both content and practice, which is consistent with service-learning goals. The standards are arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades. Later concepts reinforce those that have been taught earlier in an interdisciplinary approach.

The CRSN is one of Friends' most diverse and inclusive programs. Public schools represent 90% of CRSN participants. In 2019, Friends conducted a five-year analysis of the CRSN and found that 69% of schools served were CPS schools, with 53.1% of students from low-income families. Over that same period, students served were 37.1% Hispanic or Latino, 29.6% Caucasian, 20.6% Black, and 7.3% Asian.

For more information about CRSN, and our ongoing and individualized assistance for educators, please feel free to contact Hauser directly at (847) 481-9749 or at