Environmental education strengthens students understanding of Earth – our greatest resource!

“I think there is a hole in my waders!”

Sixth grade students from North Park Montessori excitedly climb down muddy earth, and enter the cold waters of Lamberton Creek. The water is flowing high and fast for the creek, even though West Michigan has had a somewhat dry spring.

“I want you to put your nets down into the water, let it set at the bottom and start stomping in front of it,” instructs the Teach for the Watershed guide while waist deep in the stream. “Then pull your nets up and take a look inside.”

North Park Montessori students at Teach for the Watershed examine their Lamberton Creek findings!

The bottom half of each student suddenly becomes shrouded in a cloud of creek bed debris as the stream comes even more alive with bubbling agitation. Students begin working to dislodge tiny water-dwelling macroinvertebrates, and gently catch the critters in their nets while battling their balance against the water’s current.

Macroinvertebrates are just one of many water quality indicators that students, during this environmental field trip, will be studying. A program conducted by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), Teach for the Watershed is hands-on, place-based environmental education. Every school year, more than 1,500, sixth grade GRPS students visit local rivers, creeks and ponds to be taught the skills and knowledge to take action in protecting West Michigan’s watersheds.

“I found something!” cries out a student. “It’s swimming around!”

Students, weighed down by heavy waders, slosh over to the excitement. The guide takes a look inside, and reaches deep into the grimy net. He pulls his hand out slowly, marshy water drips off his fist. Resting in his muddy palm are remnants of the stream and the tiniest of iridescent creatures – a scud.

This watershed enrichment trip connects students to the environment in a fun and exciting way by transforming stream study into hands-on learning! Experienced WMEAC staff instruct students on environmental issues and protection while teaching them the subtleties of watershed quality and health.

Student gets a closer look at his findings.

Making sure to incorporate the students’ classroom science instruction into practice, WMEAC sets up a few different watershed focused stations throughout the greenspace. One station is dedicated to water chemistry where students are tasked with testing and analyzing the water source for levels of pH, oxygen, phosphates, coliform and nitrates and record their findings in a field journal. Another station requires students to collect information on the biodiversity of the stream by classifying the macroinvertebrates, the very ones they captured in their nets, by using a magnifying lens and a microscope. An additional station encourages students to wear their investigative hats and work through a scavenger hunt directed by worksheet tasks.

After some time exploring the chilly waters of Lamberton Creek, and filling their buckets with creek specimens to examine, students make their way to higher ground. Their next stop, classifying and exploring biodiversity.

With one eye squinted closed and the other pressed to the lens, students begin investigating their findings with a microscope. The Scud glides back and forth across the tiny pool of water upon the dish. Back and forth over the illuminating light the Scud slides past. “Oh my word! It’s huge and it has a ton of legs!”

Environmental Education is one of five vital impact areas the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation is dedicated to supporting. By providing opportunities for students to take an active role in understanding and protecting natural resources we can together strengthen the educational experiences for ALL GRPS students.

Want to help ensure GRPS students experience hands-on environmental education? Make a gift today!

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