WMMS science students tackle watersheds hands on

Volunteers Lisa Wittenborn, left, and Ellen Early, right, lead students through the chemical monitoring station as students look on.

Sixth grade science students at William Monroe Middle School received hands on educational experiences on watersheds last month thanks to a grant received by The Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District (CSWCD).

The district received the $250,000 three-year grant in June 2018 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Now in its second year, the six-day program launched on Sept. 11 for the first group of Monroe students.

Heather Mack, a science major at Piedmont Virginia Community College, led one group of Monroe sixth-graders through four days of classroom instruction before heading to Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria for hands-on learning. After visiting Graves Mountain, students headed back to the classroom the following day to write letters to the editor (See pages A5 & A6).

“The first day was kind of our introduction unit asking them, ‘What is a watershed?’ then we took a tour. They are in William Monroe Middle School, so the closest stream to them is Stanardsville Run,” Mack said. “The second day we talked about bugs and the water quality. And then day three, we were doing calculations of everything.”

Education Coordinator for CSWCD, Stephanie DeNicola, said the best way for the students to learn to care about the river is if they experience it.

“The only way to get anybody to care about the river is if they have an ownership about it. With the four days we’ve been in the classroom, we’re talking to them about the different ways pollution gets into the water because people don’t think about how pollution gets there,” she said. “If you give them that ability to make those connections, they’ll grow more confident. They have the knowledge to talk to grownups about it, talk to parents, to talk to anybody.”

Mack, who did a similar hands-on experience at Chris Greene Lake when she was in middle school, said watershed education goes hand in hand with taking care of the environment around you.

“When I did this in middle school, I learned a lot. It really helped me to understand the importance of taking care of the environment around you. We’re trying to spread to them that it’s really, really important to take care of your environment. Every little thing can make an impact,” Mack said.

CSWCD was the first soil and water conservation on the East Coast to be selected as a Bay Watershed Education and Training (BWET) grantee by NOAA. Principal Eileen Oliver-Eggert said both students and teachers have benefited from the grant opportunity.

“The classroom lessons and real-life experiences in the field have been powerful ways to help students learn not only about the impacts on the environment, but about scientific processes and logical thinking as well,” Oliver-Eggert said.

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