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What Would YOU do with $1 Million and an Acre of Riverfront Property?

2009 January 30

About the author: Kelly Leovic works in EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory and manages the Environmental and Community Outreach Program in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
I asked this question to the 3rd grade class at Y.E. Smith Elementary School at EPA’s Science Day on December 5th. EPA began hosting the annual Science Day at the downtown Durham school in 2004 as part of our outreach efforts to inspire students’ interest in science and the environment.
Twenty-two EPA employees, as well as four community volunteers, participated in EPA’s Science Day, by teaching hands-on environment science activities. Each presenter shared their lesson with three classes, linking their activities to the N.C. Standard Course of Study to supplement the grade level curriculum. Topics ranged from geology to energy consumption to water quality.
image of author holding a large map in a classronSo, getting back to my 3rd graders…I give each student a fake $1 million dollar bill, a “piece of land,” and colored pencils to draw what they would build on their riverfront property with their million dollars. The idea is that each student’s piece of land is part of the ecosystem and what one person does on their land can affect others as the pieces are assembled. The activity is called “Sum of the Parts” and is from Project WET. As the students complete their million-dollar drawings, we put together the pieces of the river “puzzle” on the floor and then brainstorm about the types of water pollution that could come from what they built on their property. Types of pollution included run-off, litter, oil from boats, fishing line, and my personal favorite, sewage, which I referred to as pee and poop. We then begin to talk about how upstream development and the resulting pollution can affect those downstream.
Most of the 3rd graders built huge houses; some even drew “mansions.” Having done this activity with students of all ages, I always enjoy seeing their creativity followed by their recognition that consumption can affect the environment. In comparison, middle schoolers like to build malls and shoe stores, and adults tend toward solar homes and organic gardening. Regardless, “Sum of the Parts” is always a hit because it encourages the students to think about the impact of their personal activities on the environment. Plus, it gives them the opportunity to be creative with their drawings, and, much to their delight, they get to keep the fake $1 million!
To learn more about past EPA Science Days, go to the Durham Public Schools Partners in the Community link at If you are located in the Research Triangle Park area and would like to have EPA come speak at your school or to your community group, check out our Speakers Bureau at Speaking topics include air quality, climate change, sustainability, and water quality, as well as science fair judging.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. Electric cars permalink
    February 2, 2009

    Oh it is a great subject but if u ask me this question then my answer is, I enjoy it with my family.

  2. Jason permalink
    February 2, 2009

    Keep the million and sell the acre of riverfront property with a deed restriction to keep as a riparian buffer. Put the million away and whatever money I could get for the acre so I can pay for my kids college and can possibly retire before I die.

  3. Rachel permalink
    March 24, 2009

    It is an excellent investment in the future to expose young children to the concept that human activity and land development can have detrimental effects on the delicate, interconnected earth systems we inhabit. It is a very basic concept, and while some adults I know still struggle with understanding such ideas even young children can easily see how very connected we all are to our environment.
    If I was given $1million dollars and an acre of riverfront property, I would use the money to invest in neighboring properties to set aside a larger area as a conservation site. I would also reach out to local elementary and high schools and allow science teachers to use the land as teaching tool.

  4. Amy Cameron permalink
    April 15, 2010

    Move to the riverfront property and turn it into an agricultural land. Raise cows, horses, sheep, plant crops to sustain our needs. I could use the $1 million to buy the rest of the nearby properties and build a school there for little children.

    Amy Cameron

  5. Tim Piazza permalink
    July 19, 2010

    Build a beautiful boat, a dock, and a river education center, and give environmental awareness tours up and down the river to show people how pollution is impacting their waterways, and show them how they can make a positive impact within their communities for all who benefit from the river.

  6. Glen permalink
    June 7, 2011

    I will build orphanage, deposit my money, travelling :D

  7. sell my property permalink
    August 28, 2012

    Its a great pleasure reading what youve posted here.It has all the information I am looking for and Im posting to say: The content of your post is awesome. Great work.

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