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Down by the Bay

Originally published in the Mason Spirit, Fall 2009, page 29.
by Tara Laskowski, MFA ’05

Every sixth grader in Prince William County is enjoying a meaningful watershed education experience this academic year, thanks to researchers from Mason’s Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC) and a three-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“As young people explore the watershed beyond their classrooms, their science education becomes more personally relevant and their interest in becoming environmental stewards grows,” says Dann Sklarew, PEREC’s associate director.

Using field trips to such habitats such as Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William Forest Park, and Bull Run Mountain, the program is being integrated into the county’s curriculum to realize Virginia Standards of Learning objectives at middle and high school levels.

Students connect to their local watershed by mapping its characteristics, measuring rainfall and runoff, and calculating economic costs. They also develop a community-based project, such as creating a rain garden or cleaning up trash; estimate the environmental impact of their project; and post the results to a web site.

Cups of Water and Grass

To prepare teachers for the program, Cynthia Smith, a Mason research professor of environmental science and policy, worked with Joy Greene of the Prince William County Public Schools this summer to conduct a series of three-day teacher-training workshops. At least 50 sixth-grade and high school teachers of earth science and environmental systems participated. The teacher training included building lesson plans, examining computer-based activities, and training in field activities such as sampling, exploration, and analysis.

Sklarew and Chris Jones, PEREC director and senior advisor on the grant, estimate that more than 18,000 Prince William County middle and high school students will take part in this project over three years.

At least a dozen Mason students will serve as outdoor educators. Environmental Science and Policy graduate student Robert Johnson will track the effect of this training on students’ environmental stewardship.

Read the full “No Science Teacher Left Behind” section at the Mason Spirit website.

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