You can lead a student to water

Several local agencies entered a partnership in securing a grant to aid in teaching ways to monitor Seneca County and Lake Erie water quality.

The Seneca Soil and Water Conservation District and North Central Ohio Educational Service Center are joining to work with Seneca County schools to incorporate the project, Watershed Dynamics for 21st Century Learners, into classrooms.

The Ohio Environmental Education Fund through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will be funding the proposal, which includes equipment, training and resources totaling $48,667.

“With this project, we want to teach students that what they are doing at school, in their backyard or on their farms can affect not only the Sandusky River, but also Lake Erie,” said Beth Diesch, SWCD education coordinator.

SWCD, NCOESC, Heidelberg Water Quality Lab and The Ohio State University Stone Lab also will be matching $9,428 toward the project.

The teachers will be equipped with a tote of supplies ranging from brochures, educational tools and software, jars for collection, nitrate kits, pH sensors and testing probes.

“It is a combination of everyone’s time, supplies and donations,” Diesch said.

The purpose of the program is to help high school students make a connection between knowledge learned in the classroom and through online resources, hands-on experience and skills needed to conduct research, analyze data and be able to present their findings to their peers, environmental agencies and the community, Diesch said.

Local teachers will be offered a day of training May 17 at Rock Creek on the Heidelberg University campus.

Ken Krieger, director of the National Center for Water Quality Research, and Jakob Boehler will be working with the teachers to host a training session on the proper collection and identification of aquatic invertebrates in local streams.

Teachers from Bettsville, Hopewell-Loudon, Mohawk, Old Fort and Seneca East schools and the North Central Academy will be participating, as well.

“The teachers will learn multiple methods for collecting macroinvertebrates, as well as where to best find them, how to identify macroinvertebrates using scientific keys and how to determine what the data (the teachers) collect means for the health of the stream,” Boehler said.

Boehler said teachers will be using kick nets and D-framed nets to collect the macroinvertebrates from as many different habitats as they can find in a 165-foot section of Rock Creek.

From there, the teachers will be able to determine the health of Rock Creek based on the macroinvertebrate community data, Boehler said.

“It is very important for younger generations to be more active in their communities for a number of reasons,” Boehler said. “The younger generations of today will be the leaders of their communities tomorrow. It is important for them to be active in their community now so that when they have the ability to lead their community and invoke needed change they have the understanding and capabilities to do so.”

Biomonitoring methods used can be performed many times at the same location, Boehler said. The equipment the teachers received will be utilized for years to come.

“For example, if one year to the next a streams macroinvertebrate community changes drastically from intolerant to tolerant organisms, then we as scientists know that something occurred causing this and we know that there is a need for further investigating to determine the source of this change and what can be done to fix the problem,” Boehler said.

Teacher Justin Ruffing said he hopes to use the program to help improve the school and classroom experience for his students at North Central Academy.

“The grant is not only a great opportunity for me, it is also a great opportunity for my students,” Ruffing said.

All of the methods are aligned with the common core science standards and the state’s model curriculum.

The project will assist in targeting issues dealing with surface water, watersheds, non-point source pollution, water quality monitoring, pollution and prevention, industrial waste minimization, habitat preservation, wetlands and environmental health and sustainability.

“This program will provide ideas, technology, curriculum and more that will be a big part of my classroom during the program and once the program is complete,” Ruffing said.