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Educators in Action

Master Naturalists Support Educational Event

On Thursday, May 24, 2012 Lancaster Middle School sixth-graders enjoyed Think Outside the Sink—a day of meaningful water conservation activities and having fun outside. The event, organized by Northern Neck Soil & Water Conservation District (Northern Neck Master Naturalist Faye Andrashko) with Belle Isle State Park (Charlene Talcott), gave the class of 89 sixth-graders a chance to participate in inland and waterside environmental education activities and enjoy a beautiful day at Belle Isle State Park.

Groups of sixth-graders rotated through six hands-on activity stations: Seining and Tide Marking; Pollution & Water Quality—testing with probes; Incredible Journey—the Water Cycle & Groundwater; Oysters: Filterers, Food & Fun; Wetlands—the Salt Marsh Cast; and Watersheds, Soil Health & Erosion. The stations incorporated presentations and associated activities intended to reinforce subject knowledge gained from classroom activities and the Virginia Standards of Learning.

Twenty-six volunteers from local partnering organizations assisted with planning, station programs, escorting, timekeeping, safety, and general setup assistance. Representatives from Belle Isle State Park, Friends of the Rappahannock, Northern Neck Master Gardeners, Northern Neck Master Naturalists, Tidewater Oyster Gardeners’ Association, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Northern Neck Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society, as well as Northern Neck Soil & Water staff were on hand to make the day a success.

Possibly the most fun of the day was had by Northern Neck Master Naturalists Carol Hammer and Pam and John Narney assisted by AmeriCorps Volunteer Russell Reed. Their presentations on Tides and Seining turned into a day at the beach for them and the students. Everyone who wanted to, got their feet and a lot more wet.

Special recognition goes to Gail Drake, Nancy Garvey, and Jane Henley for their work as group escorts. If you think herding cats is tough, try keeping groups of sixth graders on schedule on the next to last day of the school year. Thanks to Jim Eury for taking pictures of the event.

The event was well reviewed by the teachers and other volunteers. Plans are afoot for a fall program for the new crop of sixth-graders coming in. For more information on this or other environmental education programs, please contact Faye Andrashko, Northern Neck Soil & Water Conservation District Education Specialist at, or (804) 333-3525, ext. 113.

Hanover-Caroline SWCD Pull the “Rabbit Out of a Hat” for Successful MWEE

Rebecca T. Jones
Education & Public Relations Specialist
Hanover-Caroline Soil & Water Conservation District

A last-minute kink was thrown into the planning the third annual Hanover-Caroline SWCD Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) field days when we received the unfortunate news that the State Fair of Virginia and Meadow Event Park filed for bankruptcy. The beautiful home of the Fairgrounds had also been the home to our field investigations for Hanover and Caroline County sixth graders for the past two years and we were looking forward to it as a permanent location for the events. While we are very disappointed to lose this location and valued partnership, we were fortunate to quickly find an excellent new location for our MWEE. Hanover County Parks and Recreation worked with the District and we transformed the beautiful Poor Farm Park in Ashland into eight outdoor learning stations for more than 1200 students who were able to learn about a variety of topics including wetlands, riparian buffers, aquatic organisms, and water quality testing. Students participated in hands-on activities using field equipment, recorded data and participated in discussions. There was plenty of hiking through the woods with views of Stagg Creek and we heard many students comment that they were looking forward to coming back to visit with their families!

These field days were made possible by more than 50 extraordinary volunteers that offered their time and expertise for these students. A huge thank you to these volunteers, Hanover Parks & Rec, and to Hanover & Caroline County Public Schools! We look forward to MWEE 2013!

Environmental Topics Come Alive for Goochland Fifth Graders

Betty McCracken
Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District

Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District held its MWEE culmination program, called Watershed Day, on April 5, 2012 at Goochland Elementary School. Financial support was provided through a grant from the VA Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The event involved 64 fifth graders along with their science teacher, Jennifer Cosby. Three adult aids and one adult chaperone also attended.

Betty McCracken, Conservationist, has worked with Miss Cosby’s classes throughout the school year in support of the MWEE program. Lessons included vascular and nonvascular plants, with emphasis on wetland plants and invasive species; the importance of soil, soil particle sizes and soil profiles; and the Enviroscape model, with emphasis on Best Management Practices, both agricultural and urban.

Watershed Day incorporated 3 stations:

  1. The watershed station was comprised of each class as a group. Laminated aerial photographs with a topographic map overlay of the small wetland watershed which was being studied, were distributed. Topography, water drainage, and land use were discussed. A short walk along an impaired stream was taken and human impact on this stream was highlighted. Each class then was split between the next 2 stations and flip-flopped.
  2. The soils station was taught by Keith Burgess, District Manager and Conservation Specialist. He used a compaction tester, infiltration rings, and auger to demonstrate how land use and human actions affect soil fertility.
  3. The chemical water testing station was taught by Betty. Students dipped water from the impaired stream and tested for nitrates, phosphates, dissolved oxygen, pH, and temperature. Explanation of data was given and discussed. Data was recorded on a spreadsheet and later forwarded to Miss Cosby for further use in the classroom.

At the end of the event, Betty awarded Miss Cosby with a recognition certificate and coasters from the Middle James Roundtable for each student. Miss Cosby emailed the next day to say she felt Watershed Day was “really awesome” and that she has “some great ideas for next year”.

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William Monroe Sixth Graders Learn About Ecological Issues at the Rapidan River

Stephanie DeNicola
Education and Information Coordinator
Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District

Some ImageDuring the week of April 16, 2012, the sixth grade students of William Monroe Middle School visited the Rapidan River for a MWEE by the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District with the help of other agencies and many volunteers.

There were five different stations about water conservation that all students visited during the day long activities. At the biological testing station students used a seine net in the river to collect macroinvertebrates and then sorted them into classes of pollution intolerant, moderately tolerant or pollution intolerant. At the soil station students learned about the importance of roots and “nature’s glue”, worm and bug solid waste, for holding the soil together and the value of loam. Dept. of Forestry rangers manned another station and led students through a dichotomous key to identify a native tree as well as looked at a variety of vein patterns in leaves. The chemical testing station gave students the opportunity to run tests for dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrates and phosphates, and checked the turbidity. The final station was physical testing where the students checked the temperature and the river’s width, depth and velocity. The students concluded that based on their tests the overall health of the stream was good.

The sixth grade teachers, Mrs. Worley, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Root, extend their utmost appreciation and thanks to all the professionals and volunteers who made this investigation possible.

Kiptopeke Elementary School Students Problem Solve

Kiptopeke Elementary School, one of the two elementary public schools that serve Northampton County, is on Route 13 south of Cape Charles, Virginia. This school has an area where water remains standing for a period of days after a heavy rain. The purpose of their MWEE was to help students come up with a plan to correct this problem, to gain a better understanding of their watershed and discover the effects of their actions on the pollution of this area. This MWEE involved both classroom and field investigations.

Grades 3, 5, and 6 participated in this MWEE for a total of 203 students. The lead teachers were Brandon Reiter (grade 3), Douglas Stewart (grade 5) and Austine Ward (grade 6,) but a total of 16 teachers in these three grades helped out. Partners included Kiptopeke State Park, The Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, the Eastern Shore Master Naturalist, NRCS, and Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District, plus the Virginia Tech Agricultural Research Extension Center (AREC).

Besides focusing on the solution to their standing water problems, students got to rotate through a series of 8 stations with topics pertinent to their area and watershed.

  1. Crabbing on the Pier: This station allowed for the identification of sexes, looked at the life cycle of the crab, and explained why the blue crab is a keystone species of the Chesapeake Bay and how it helps control the health of the Bay.
  2. Seining: Students used both a seine and cast net to capture organisms in the Bay. They then identified the organisms and discussed their role in the ecology of the Bay.
  3. Water Chemistry: Students collected water samples and analyzed them for dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, salinity, temperature, turbidity, and pH as well as discussed the importance of these numbers.
  4. Migratory Birds: Students learned about the importance of this area to migratory birds. They also learned that Kiptopeke State Park is a banding station for migratory birds and the process of bird banding.
  5. History of the Lower Chesapeake Bay: Students learned that this site has several World War II concrete ships sunk to provide a safe harbor for the ferry that used to run from Kiptopeke to Virginia Beach. They also learned why this area was very important to the Jamestown settlers.
  6. Mammals and Turtles of the Watershed: Students saw the pelts and skulls of local mammals and turtles and learned the role of these animals in this ecosystem.
  7. Scavenger Hunt: Students walked the beach and discussed the importance of the dune system, the adaptations of the plants to this area and collected sea shells.

The students decided that installing a rain garden would solve the standing water problem. The Assistant Superintendent of the Northampton County School District has reserved funds for the construction of this garden at Kiptopeke Elementary School next year.