Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Worthy Collaboration: The Watershed District’s Work in the Schools

Students on their way to educate their neighbors about the issue of storm water run off.
By Tracy Leavenworth

Each year over 800 students and teachers in schools throughout the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District get involved in watershed-based programs and projects. Through their participation, students engage in the natural world, gain awareness and understanding of issues in the watershed, and make meaningful contributions toward the improvement of water quality and habitats in their neighborhoods. Talk about a Ripple Effect!

Already this fall, over 600 students from 22 classes in 5 schools have participated in education programs and service learning opportunities provided by RWMWD. An 8th grade science teacher at Battle Creek Middle School recently expressed his gratitude for his students’ valuable learning experience following a day of creek monitoring: “…thank you for coming back to the creek and working with our kids… they really got value from the trip! I know several kids didn't even know the creek was there!”

Keeping Tabs on Battle Creek: Water Quality Monitoring with 8th Grade Science Students

Students retrieve water from the creek to use for testing. 

Three hundred 8th grade students from Battle Creek Middle School (BCMS) enjoyed beautiful fall weather as they made their way across the street and down to the creek during one of their science classes last month. Amply prepared from classroom pre-lessons where they practiced performing the tests, students divided into groups and skillfully tested and recorded water clarity, pH, amount of dissolved oxygen, and air and water temperatures. A separate group donned rubber boots and waded into the water with nets, their mission being to collect samples of macro invertebrates living in the creek. Crayfish, damselfly nymphs, water boatmen and water striders were several species discovered and identified by students during the 2-day water quality monitoring experience.

Students analyze the results of their pH test.
BCMS students are fortunate to have such a beautiful water resource at their fingertips. They attain valuable skills, knowledge and connection to the creek and they learn about the issues affecting it. Says Jodi Grote, ELL science teacher at BCMS about her students’ work with the Watershed District, “My students are completely engaged when Tracy [Leavenworth] and Sage [Passi] work with them at the creek for water quality monitoring. Completely engaged.”

Left: Science teacher, Sue Fourniea, supports a student as he prepares to test the clarity of Battle Creek.
Right: Students search for macro invertebrates in the shallows of Battle Creek.

Farnsworth Aerospace Promotes the Role of Plants in Providing Habitat and Watershed Protection

Sherry Brooks' fourth graders investigate the diverse native plants
in their Farnsworth Aerospace garden.  They discover how their long
roots help soak water into the ground and slow down run-off before
it heads to the Mississippi River.

Each year Farnsworth Aerospace students in Sherry Brooks’ science classes learn first-hand about plants and their role in protecting water downstream through their school’s demonstration garden, neighborhood field trips and classroom watershed lessons. The garden was created in 2009 by students and teachers at the school with support from the Watershed District, the school’s PTO, St. Paul Community Education and Ramsey County Master Gardeners. It was designed to mirror the diversity of native plants in the Lake Phalen Restoration Project and to provide continuity for those lessons after the school’s involvement for seven years in this planting project was completed.

The garden is used each year as a valued teaching tool and as a source of native seeds for plants that students grow for many watershed district projects. Brooks uses the garden to teach about habitats, pollinators and birds that migrate through the Phalen Chain of Lakes. Students learn to identify plants, collect and germinate seed, grow seedlings and how to support healthy watersheds through best management practices in the community. Additionally students gain valuable skills and life lessons by helping to maintain the garden.


Teaming Up with Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) at L'Etoile Du Nord French Immersion (LNFI)

Kate Clayton from Friends of the Mississippi River reviews stenciling procedures with 5th graders.

With FMR’s Kate Clayton leading the way, all three 5th grade classes at LNFI participated in a storm drain stenciling service learning project this fall. This is a very exciting activity for 5th graders! While some students used spray paint to stencil the message “Keep ‘em Clean/ Drains to River” next to storm drains, others hung door knockers on residents’ doors and still others picked up litter. One student was rewarded for his clean-up efforts when he found a 20 dollar bill on the street! Over 100 storm drains were stenciled, and over 50 bags of trash were collected.

More often than not, students found storm drains choked with
debris.  One group discovered a storm drain with so much leaf
litter that had covered the drain for so long, the lower strata had
turned to soil.

A week before the stenciling, Tracy and Kate visited the classrooms to prepare students for their meaningful work. Kate brought in mason jars containing water that had been sitting for several days mixed with various run-off pollutants (grass clippings, leaves, oil, etc.). Students had to guess what the run-off pollutant for each jar was. They were appropriately grossed out by this activity, and were most disturbed by the jar that held cigarette butts!

A student takes a break from stenciling to smile
for the camera.

Tracy led the class in another activity where the students became the watershed throughout the seasons; each student was a body of water (e.g., Lake Phalen) or a part of a body of water (e.g. the headwaters of Gervais Creek). They passed blue beads between them to represent water flow, adjusting their “flow rate” based on the time of year (and whether or not there was a thunderstorm happening…). At one point, run off (non-point source pollution) began to enter the “watershed” (different colored beads were introduced). Students were skeptical and curious about these new beads flowing into them.


During the debriefing session from the activity, students worked to identify each color of bead with the pollutant it could represent (for instance, red beads signify leaves, green beads represent lawn clippings, black beads represent oil, etc.). LeQuyen Tran, LNFI 5th grade teacher had this to say about her students’ experience:

“Students understood much better the signification of the waterways with the beads activity and how nature and human actions affect the pollution of water. This helped make the storm drain stenciling service learning project much more powerful and meaningful to them.”

Students from M. Mang's class celebrate their hard work in the neighborhood.

L'Etoile Du Nord French Immersion 4th Grade: Making Connections

A Farnsworth 4th grader proudly displays her watershed drawing.

Fourth grade classrooms in several schools throughout the Watershed District experienced a Watershed Introduction Lesson this fall. During part of this lesson, each student created a drawing of a watershed, completing the picture with a definition: A watershed is an area of land that drains into a common body of water.

A close up of a couple watershed drawings done by Farnsworth 4th graders.

At LNFI, all three 4th grade classes took their new knowledge about watersheds into the field; they each took a half day walking field trip to Beaver Lake. Their tour of Beaver Lake included stops at naturalist Ann Hutchinson’s LEAP award-winning yard, a storm drain inlet into Beaver Lake, the rain gardens at Achieve Academy, and the belt line interceptor outlet at the south end of Beaver Lake. 
Top left: Outside her home, Maplewood Nature Center naturalist Ann Hutchinson shows students the baby turtle she found near her driveway as she was sweeping.  Bottom left: Students notice some corresponding vein patterns and happily identify their "mystery plant" in Ann's award-winning garden.  Right: Ann puts the students to work removing the fruits from the common milkweed plants in her front yard.

Achieve Language Academy Rain Garden Provides a Shared Learning Experience for Their School Neighbors

Sage Passi (RWMWD) guides students at the Achieve Academy rain gardens, part of the Beaver Lake tour (Beaver Lake can be seen in the background).

A couple of years ago, L’Etoile du Nord fourth graders took the lead in building their own rain garden and helped with a hillside restoration project at their former school grounds on Bush Avenue in east St. Paul. At their new school site where they moved in 2012 there isn’t an appropriate site for similar projects so the Watershed District has been helping them seek out other experiences to help students learn about watershed protection. A nearby school, Achieve Learning Academy has two rain gardens that have become a new teaching ground for L’Etoile du Nord students. It’s across the street from Beaver Lake and near another field trip stop so it makes a perfect landing location to teach about water quality improvements.

Nick Gasho, 4th grade teacher at LNFI, shares this account of his class’s work with the Watershed District:
“Having this partnership with RWMWD is very valuable, as it allows our students to see the connection between some of the concepts they are studying in science, and how they are related to our own, immediate natural environment within blocks of our school. When Tracy came in to our classrooms to share a lesson on watersheds, she did an excellent job laying out for the students exactly what they were going to be doing, which prepared them well for the lesson itself and resulted in very smooth flow. Then to be able to take what they learned in class out "into the field," so to speak, was an outstanding experience. For the students to visit a small body of water (Beaver Lake) within walking distance of our school, and learn how the lake actually flows into the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, was for many of them, a "watershed" moment (no pun intended...well ok, maybe just a little). I am grateful for our work with RWMWD.”

L'Etoile du Nord 4th graders investigate the Beaver Lake outlet that directs water into the Beltline and on to the Mississippi River.


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