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Teaching Kids About Watersheds

by Peter M.

Among the many difficulties facing the Appalachian communities of Southwest Virginia is the quality of education. With limited funding, many primary and high schools struggle to meet the Standards of Learning (SOL), set forth by the state of Virginia in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act. In recent years, the rural elementary schools of Russell County have sought to incorporate an environmental education aspect in their curriculum. They’ve experienced difficulty in implementing the project due to lack of resources and few qualified instructors.

In 2008, the Clinch Valley Soil and Water Conservation District (CVSWCD) partnered with the Russell County School Board to assist with this project. Angela White, the district manager, worked with teachers and school officials to create a series of interactive demonstrations that deal with environmental issues and are geared towards students of all levels. These activities include: Soil Babies, in which elementary students make their own chia pets, and learn first hand how soil and plants interact; Enviroscape demonstrations, which illustrate to kids how human activity affects a watershed; water sampling and testing demonstrations, and many others.  As the OSM/VISTA member I am  responsible for implementing these programs.

I enjoy the responsibility of coordinating the school visits, engaging volunteers, and presenting the demonstrations to the kids. This summer, I have been heavily involved with the summer school program, often visiting several schools in one day. On June 9th, I visited Honaker Elementary School in Honaker, VA. There were two demonstrations scheduled for the day: “It’s Got To Come From Somewhere” and a water sampling activity.

The 2nd and 3rd graders participated in “It’s Got To Come From Somewhere”, which was a specialized guessing game dealing with natural resources and the products which they are used to manufacture. Each student received a card with a category on it such as rocks and minerals, plants, animals or petroleum. They then had to match their card up with a household product made from this material, such as a cotton t-shirt, or a brass doorknob. This activity can get a little interesting, as the kids must then try to figure out how the raw material is used to make the product, and whether the material is a renewable or nonrenewable resource. When asked how an aluminum lawn chair can be made from rocks and minerals, a young 2nd grader looked up at the instructor and said with the utmost seriousness “is it a transformer?”

The second activity was geared toward the 4th through 6th graders. They marched down to a nearby stream and brought back a five gallon bucket of water. Under my supervision, they then ran tests on the water, to measure its temperature, turbidity, pH value and dissolved oxygen content. This illustrated a lesson on pollution, and stream health.

The students learned how clean water relates to their daily lives, and how careless human activity can damage water supplies for entire communities. This was only one of several dozen demonstrations lined up for the summer school program. I hope that my efforts have had an impact on the students’ education, and will continue to assist the CVSWCD with the program in the future.

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