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Teachers Connect Schools to Improving Pennsylvania's Water Quality

The following first appeared in The Sentinel.

Pa-teachers
Teachers take a closer look at a Dragonfly Nymph being held by CBF Educator Emily Thorpe, right, during a study of aquatic life along the Susquehanna River. The two-day workshop showed teachers what schools can do to reduce polluted runoff and improve Pennsylvania's water quality. Teachers are, from left, Sondra Picciotto of Harrisburg City, Abigail Frey of the Diocese of Harrisburg, and Nicolette Place of Northern York. Photo by Myrannda Kleckner.

A group of Pennsylvania teachers became students when the lessons turned to what schools can do to reduce polluted runoff and improve the Commonwealth's water quality. The two-day "Pennsylvania's Waterways: Real Change, Real Connections Workshop" was sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) Susquehanna Watershed Education Program.

"The main idea of the workshop was for teachers to connect their schoolyards and communities to local waterways," said CBF Educator Emily Thorpe. "It is proven that urban and suburban runoff is the fastest growing source of pollution. These teachers will have the experience to learn what types of best management practices may be beneficial for their area and how they can go about proposing action to reduce pollution."

About 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania rivers and streams are polluted, and the Commonwealth has a Clean Water Blueprint to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff that is damaging its waters. But the Environmental Protection Agency reported recently that Pennsylvania is significantly behind in meeting its Blueprint goals of having 60 percent of the pollution-reduction practices necessary to restore water quality in place by 2017 and 100 percent in place by 2025.

Teachers who attended were asked to evaluate their schoolyards and identify water management strengths and weaknesses, so they might share suggestions for improvement, with students and the administrators.

"For most schools, we have too many paved surfaces that could cause problems with stormwater runoff," said Sondra Picciotto, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher in the Harrisburg City School District. "If schoolyards were able to add rain gardens and rain barrels to their campus, we would see positive effects in our local water."

"I believe that it would be better for schools to put money into programs like storm water practices," added Mary Catherine Sweeney, an English teacher at the Diocese of Harrisburg.

"A first step a school could do is to transform their open plots of land," said Jane Macedonia, a science teacher within Lancaster Catholic High School. "Turn them into rain gardens or add rain barrels that serve as biological functions that not only will be beneficial to your environment, but will be beneficial to the kids sitting in the classrooms."

Macedonia said, "There are so many types of programs that schools can adopt that conserve water quality. "Think about hydroponics. These systems recycle water throughout the process of growing plants, which later could be used within the school's cafeteria," she added. "No matter what type of program, though, the students will be having so much fun that they won't realize that it was meant to be a learning experience."

Nolan Canter, CBF educator for the Philip Merrill Center Education Program in Annapolis, MD, said, "For aquaponics, schools could raise trout or other fish inside the schools themselves and over time, be able to release them into local streams to help the populations. Also, students can learn about water chemistry while working on a project like this. It doesn't all have to be outside," he added.

During a session at the Wildwood Nature Center in Harrisburg, teachers learned more about water resources and the Chesapeake Bay, and how their schools measure up in preventing pollution. They also toured the Benjamin Olewine Nature Center and the Capital Region Water Treatment Plant. They spent the second day of the workshop paddling canoes down the Susquehanna River, stopping for hands-on lessons about aquatic life in the river, and water chemistry.

Teachers were from the Diocese of Harrisburg, Harrisburg City School District, Lancaster Catholic High School, Northern York School District, River Rock Academy, St. Catherine Laboure School, and St. John the Baptist Catholic School.

"If we emphasize water quality issues," said Nicolette Place, a teacher at Wellsville Elementary in the Northern York School District, "we will be able to come up with solutions that will continue to keep our environment healthy for the next generation."

—Myrannda Kleckner, CBF Pennsylvania Communications Intern

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