“What do you think watershed means?”
Kathy Urffer, CRC River Steward, asked 5th graders in Bridget Cole’s class at Dover School in Vermont. On a cloudy Monday in late January, with snow piled high outside the school, Kathy and Alden Dumas, an ECO Americorps member serving with the CRC, facilitated a lively presentation about the Connecticut River watershed featuring the 3D EnviroScape model. Kathy broke the word down into “water + shed” and asked students what happens when dogs shed? “What if your dog was made of water and it shed?” Everyone laughed when Aleah responded, “It would disappear.” Students contributed ideas about water moving downhill and bringing stuff with it. Alden confirmed their concepts with a definition of watershed – “an area of land within which water flows into the same body of water” – and projected maps of the Deerfield and Connecticut River watersheds.
Watershed neighbors and stories
Colorful slides provided a vivid backdrop to the question and answer format of learning about the watershed. Students shared stories about storm drains (Where do you think the water goes?) and fish living in the Connecticut River watershed. Miles observed that “two trout live under the rock” in the stream behind his house, and another student once saw a sea lamprey stuck onto a fish they caught in the river. They were spellbound by Kathy’s stories of American eels leaving their babies out in the ocean to find their way home: “Could you do that? No! We’re human!”
Working with the 3D Model
Alden invited students over to the 3D watershed model and asked them what people put on the land and where will it end up when it rains? Students called out: Cow manure! Gasoline! Trash! Salt! Sewage! Pesticides! Fertilizers! With each suggestion, Alden and Kathy sprinkled substances. Everyone pointed to the basin of water at the bottom of the landscape as the place where it would all end up. One student exclaimed, “I would not drink anything from that town!”
Point Source Pollution
Kathy and Alden used the “factory” building with sludge flowing out from a pipe to explain “point source pollution” (“you can point to it!”). Kathy explained how it is restricted by federal and state regulations. Students seemed surprised and indignant that factories are allowed to put any “sludge” into the water.
“When you get older, how can you help to solve this problem?”
Kathy asked the 5th graders, who were examining the mess on the model watershed. “Pull the plug!” was the first suggestion – but Alden and Kathy said it would go straight to the ocean. Students chimed in with other possible solutions:
“Use giant squeegees to remove the dirty water”
“Make people who live in the town use the water for cooking, so they realize”
“Maybe in the future, instead of gasoline we could use orange juice”
“Make people use this water – we would give them clean drinking water – but if they want to fill their pool, they have to use it”
Alden shared a solution from the Rich Earth Institute that ECO Americorps friends of his are developing- a project to pasteurize pee to reuse the nitrogen to fertilize crops. Kathy showed students on the model where and how planting trees could protect streams and filter run-off before it reached our rivers.
Takeaways and reflections
The session closed with thank-yous from Alden and Kathy for students’ interest in learning about water problems and solutions. Students each shared one word that stuck with them from the presentation: “dinosaur fish, sturgeon, cow manure, eels leave their babies in the ocean, sludge, sea lamprey, loon, pollution.” Their words capture the excitement of learning about the challenges, complexities and wonders of our watershed. Fifth grade teacher Bridget Cole reflected on the lesson, “What a great presentation! I think it’s so important for the youth to learn about what is going on in their environment. I want them to know as much as possible so they are better able to make changes for a better future.”
CRC staff is glad to come present in your classroom. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our river stewards in each state. Teachers are also welcome to borrow CRC’s Enviroscape pollution model: Enviroscape Watershed Model Request.