environmental education

Invasive Species Alert: Zebras on the Loose!

By Angela Sena

I don’t mean the four-legged variety, but zebra mussels! They are an invasive mollusk species (Dreissena polymorpha) that have been found in many lakes and rivers across the Heartland. Zebra mussels have been discovered in scattered locations along the Missouri River, Lake Lotawana, Smithville Lake, Lake of the Ozarks in the Osage River, Bull Shoals Lake, and Lake Taneycomo in the White River, just to name a few. For those who are water recreationists – boaters, anglers, water skiers, sailors or canoeists – we all need to keep our eyes open for this species and help prevent their spread since there is no known way to stop them once they get a foothold.

Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha)

Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha)

Zebra mussels are a group of freshwater mussels with triangular shells and dark bands with prominent ridges. A concavity (or hollow) about midway allows the animal to secrete byssal threads, which allow it to attach to almost any solid surface. They often clump together, and adults are generally ¼ to 1 inch in length. Zebra mussels are native to the Caspian Sea region of Asia, and were accidentally introduced to North America from ballast water of an international ship. They have tremendous reproductive capabilities: a female zebra mussel can produce more than a million eggs during spawning season. The eggs hatch into a larval form (veligers), which are not visible to the human eye, making their detection and eradication difficult. At three weeks, the sand grain-sized larvae start to settle and attach, and feel like sandpaper on solid surfaces.

This invasive species can hitchhike by attaching to boat, canoe and watercraft hulls, lower units and propellers, axles, engine drive units, trolling motors, hitches, and anchor chains. They can also survive in boat bilge water, livewells, bait buckets, and engine cooling water systems. Aside from being an inconvenience for your water craft equipment, they negatively impact the economy by clogging power plant intakes and industrial and public drinking water intakes, and damaging boat hulls and motors. Zebra mussels also harm native ecosystems, and decimate native freshwater mussels and other aquatic animals.

If you enjoy spending your summers on a lake, just like my family, then we all need to do our part. Water recreationalists can help by preventing the spread of the species with a few simple steps:

  • Clean – Remove all plants, animals and mud, and thoroughly wash all equipment with hot water spray (104 degrees), especially in small crevices or hidden areas. Most car washes will suffice. If you can’t wash at that temperature, a 10-percent solution of bleach will do.
  • Drain – Eliminate all water before leaving the lake, including livewells and transom
  • Dry – Allow sufficient time for drying between water events – at least 48 hours.
  • Dispose – Dispose of unused bait in a trash receptacle.
  • Report – Report any sitings of these species. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains a Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (NAS) website for zebra mussels that shows an up-to-date map of recorded occurrences, and includes a “Report a Sighting” link that allows you to submit a report if you find them.

USGS Where Are the Mussels

However, if you do spot a mussel when you’re out enjoying a lake or stream, don’t worry. Not all mussels are unwelcome. In fact, most mussels here in the Heartland are a good thing. Check out these previous Big Blue Thread blogs by EPA’s Craig Thompson: Mussels in the Blue, Mussels in the Blue II: Relative Abundance of Species in the Blue, and Mussels in the Blue III: Water Quality and Threats.

 

Angela Sena serves as an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division at EPA Region 7. She has a degree in environmental science and management, and is a native New Mexican and avid outdoorswoman.

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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Celebrating Asthma Awareness Month and Environmental Education: EPA Region 7’s Partnership with Children’s Mercy Hospital

Introduction by Kathleen Fenton

There’s just something special about working with people who are very passionate about what they do. I feel that way every time my work brings me into contact with the top-notch medical professionals at Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) in Kansas City. Their vision is “Be a national and international leader recognized for advancing pediatric health and delivering optimal health outcomes through innovation and a high-value, integrated system of care.” It’s a big vision that CMH delivers on a daily basis.

It’s a good thing they are here because our children need them. Nearly seven million children in the U.S. have asthma, according to the American Lung Association. CMH works tirelessly with families and children who are suffering from a myriad of medical issues, including those caused by the environment, like asthma, pesticide and lead poisoning, and exposures to chemicals. They identify problems and find solutions to help sick children, worried parents, schools with environmental concerns, and communities at risk. CHM strives to find the right solutions for frequently unique challenges.

May is Asthma Awareness Month. Children’s Mercy Hospital and EPA are partners in a collective effort to help reduce asthma attacks and deaths and instruct others on how to prevent asthma attacks for the long term. Read on to understand how Dr. Jennifer Lowry and her team of professionals work closely together, as one of EPA’s many partners and grantees, to address environmental health concerns and protect human health.

By Jennifer Lowry, MD

Jennifer Lowry, MDThe Center for Environmental Health (CEH) at Children’s Mercy houses multiple entities focused on improving the environmental health in the Heartland and across the country. Specifically, the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) serves Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) by providing education, consultation, and referrals for children with environmental exposures. Additionally, the CEH, led by Director Kevin Kennedy, has been successful in delivering Healthy Homes and Healthy Schools training throughout the region andPEHSU nationally. Through two current grant initiatives, EPA Region 7 has partnered with Children’s Mercy to expand these activities into education of health care professionals (Environmental Education to Healthcare Initiative – EEHI) and offer additional healthy school training courses in all areas of Region 7.

By incorporating Healthy Homes training with the PEHSU program, the EEHI can be replicable to each of EPA’s 10 Regions and standardized across the U.S., using the PEHSU network.

The EEHI has broadened the knowledge base of students in health care and will better prepare them for their future careers. In addition, it has offered resources for students, residents, and practicing health care providers (physicians, nurses, and ancillary staff) to use when an environmental concern for a patient arises in their practice. These didactics include a 1-hour “Lunch and Learn” targeted to working health care professionals and a 2-hour presentation for health care students (such as nursing and medical students). Each of the didactics uses case study presentations from the PEHSU and offers tools for each provider to use when health care decisions (diagnosis and treatment) need to be made regarding environmental exposures. By using case-based learning, each student and practitioner can acquire useable knowledge about environmental exposures that sometimes lead to adverse health outcomes.

Now in its second year of funding, more than 700 health care students and 275 health care professionals have been educated to advocate for home-based environmental changes that can improve children’s health. In addition to continuing didactic learning in schools and offices, an e-learning platform is being developed to enhance the scope of delivery. By delivering an integrated PEHSU and Healthy Homes/Healthy Schools curriculum regionally (and ultimately, nationally), the EEHI curriculum can become a standard framework to educate health care students and practitioners about environmental health.

This increased knowledge will advance and strengthen the field of pediatrics and lead to better health for children in our homes, schools, and communities.

In addition to homes, children spend a large portion of their time in schools. In fact, surveys show that children can spend 70-90 percent of their time indoors with much of their time within schools. As school environments play an important role in the health and academic success of children, unhealthy school environments can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration, and performance, as well as lead to expensive, time-consuming cleanup and remediation activities.

To that end, staff at Children’s Mercy Hospital will work in conjunction with EPA staff to publicize and present up to 10 Healthy School Specialist Training courses throughout our four-state region and provide at least two training courses near Region 7 tribal communities. The courses are planned to be offered during the next two fiscal years.

Topics of discussion at these interactive, hands-on sessions will include: ventilation, chemical use in schools, integrated pest management, school safety issues, and best practice guidelines on how to plan, implement, and create a Healthy Schools management plan – one that includes the goal of building a teamwork structure at each school site.

For additional information about the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), please call 1-800-421-9916 (toll-free) or visit www.childrensmercy.org/mapehsu.

For additional information about all of the CMH Environmental Health Training Courses, please contact Erica Forrest, education and training coordinator, at 816-960-8919 or visit www.childrensmercy.org/ceh.

To learn more, see EPA’s Environmental Education page and information on how to ensure a Healthy School through our online Healthy Schools Toolkit. Also, if you are interested in having your school assessed or an EPA expert providing a Healthy Schools presentation, please contact Kathleen Fenton at 913-551-7874 or fenton.kathleen@epa.gov.

 

Kathleen Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs in Lenexa, Kan. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

Jennifer Lowry, MD, is the Medical Director of the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, among several other prestigious titles. She served on EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee from 2012 to 2014.

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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Environmental Education is for Everyone….

By Wendy Dew

As the Outreach and Education Coordinator for Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, and Sound Dakota, I’ve attended and hosted many environmental education events for numerous students. I love spending time with the kids and teachers while they learn about the environment. I recently encountered a program unlike others I’ve seen before. The students of this amazing program are senior citizens who are interested in learning more about the environment and the local park they love.

The Senior Naturalist Program at Bear Creek Lake Park in Morrison, Colorado has started reaching out to its senior community to continue learning about the world around them. I recently attended one of these environmental education sessions and was enthralled with the enthusiasm and interest these students of the environment had.

Seniors learned all about the watershed and the water quality of the park they enjoy so much. A guest speaker from the local water board demonstrated how water testing equipment is used and explained how the local tributaries feed the parks lakes and streams. He also explained what they can do at home to help conserve and protect water resources such as:

  • Turn the water off when you brush your teeth or wash your dishes
  • Water the yard only when it needs it
  • Wash your car at a green car wash
  • Use plants that are native to the area for landscaping
  • Use only the water that you need

Seniors got to observe fish, snails, and insects that are typically found year round in the local lakes, wetlands and streams. They also played a game where participants had to guess what the object they were holding had to do with wetlands. After more fun classroom activities, the group went out for a hike to examine the watershed first hand.

I was very inspired by the dedication these folks had to learning, the park and the environment. It provides for a great learning environment, creates a fun social interaction and they even get in exercise with a hike. I have seen many “young” students learn about the environment, but these students were truly young at heart!

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA’s Region 8 Office (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, and Sound Dakota).

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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Environmental Education Week 2015

This week, April 19-25, EPA and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) are celebrating National Environmental Education Week along with thousands of students and teachers across the country. Through environmental education, educators show students how science is a part of our daily lives, teach them the skills to develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues, and encourage them to make responsible decisions. Earth Day, which falls in the middle of Environmental Education Week this year, is an important time to reflect on our environmental impact and what we can do to protect our planet.

Over the past several years, NEEF has led Environmental Education Week by focusing on “Greening STEM,” encouraging teachers and students to explore the connection between the natural world and STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education provides the building blocks for questioning, investigating, interpreting, and ultimately protecting the world around us. Within the STEM classroom, environmental education can help students relate the formulas on the whiteboard to real world, outdoor experiences. Environmental education and STEM together equip students to critically analyze and identify effective solutions to environmental problems.

This Environmental Education Week, EPA offices across the country are working with their communities to connect with educators as well as recognize outstanding young environmental stewards—the new winners of the President’s Environmental Youth Award. This year’s winners are directly restoring damaged ecosystems, exploring exciting new alternative fuel options, and mobilizing their communities to support sustainable solutions to environmental problems. Later this year, our Office of Environmental Education will announce recipients of our Environmental Education Grants. Each year, we award $3.5 million to school districts, local governments, universities, tribal education programs, and other partners to support environmental education projects promoting awareness, stewardship, and skill building.

On Earth Day, NEEF staff will visit Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock, New Mexico, for the unveiling of a brand new Schoolyard STEM Lab, a unique learning space where students and teachers can participate in hands-on activities that exhibit the “greening” of STEM activities, from a greenhouse for science investigations to outdoor stations for engineering projects and more.

These unique experiences are what environmental education is all about—encouraging students to combine the skills they learn in the classroom with their curiosity about the natural world. It’s up to all of us to give them the chance to discover solutions to environmental challenges. We’re excited to explore the connections between environmental education and STEM throughout the year and to help teachers find the most engaging ways to enrich education through environmental themes.

There are many ways to get involved. Be an Environmental Education Week ambassador. Get outside this week and learn something new about the natural world. Share your understanding and encourage those around you to do the same. Find resources for your classroom or your child at http://www2.epa.gov/students/lesson-plans-teacher-guides-and-online-resources-educators and visit http://eeweek.org/ to learn more about how you can join the environmental education Week celebration.

About the authors: Stan Meiburg is the U.S. EPA Acting Deputy Administrator and Diane Wood is the President of the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Preparing Students for the Future Through Environmental Education

One of the best parts of my job here in the Office of Environmental Education is meeting creative, committed environmental educators- and getting to recognize them for their work. Until March 13, we’re accepting applications for the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators(PIAEE). We recently reached out to Nathaniel Thayer Wight, who teaches about sustainable energy at the Bronx Design & Construction Academy in the South Bronx. He shared his passion for environmental education and how the award is impacting his work and school.

Why did you become interested in environmental education (EE)? My early exposure to environmental sustainability evolved into to my interest in EE. I grew up on an island where residents use renewable energy to meet their electricity needs. After college, while in the United States Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, I worked on sustainable community development, focusing on agriculture and identifying solutions to soil erosion. Finally, I ended up in NYC; I’ve now been teaching in the same high school for over 10 years. Over this time, I’ve developed a passion for bringing environmental and energy literacy into urban education. I’m deeply interested in teaching our students about the interaction between energy and our urban environment, how to identify environmental problems, and most importantly, how to solve these problems in a sustainable way.

What role does EE play at your school? I work in a Career & Technical Education school, the Bronx Design & Construction Academy and have always been motivated to teach our youth about sustainable technologies through the lens of EE. My students are learning about economics and the environment, and how this relates to the building trades (electrical, plumbing, carpentry, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning and pre-engineering). Focusing our vision around environmental issues, such as climate change, reflects our school’s mission to provide 21st century Career & Technical Education.

How has winning the PIAEE award impacted your work and your school? The PIAEE Award – the result of my last 10 years of environmental work in the South Bronx – has really allowed me to strengthen and solidify the environmental projects I’ve always been working on at my school.

The award helped highlight and recognize our next big project: building the Energy-Environment Research Center. This center will:

  • Provide a model educational center where both students and community members can study renewable energy systems
  • Showcase cutting-edge renewable energy systems at street level for students, professionals, academics, engineers, and visitors to learn from
  • Provide an off-grid emergency power facility that can be used by the community during power outages and times of need
  • Power an off-grid greenhouse to grow organic produce for sale to the community

This award also allowed me to meet a group of incredible teachers working tirelessly in the field of EE. It’s very powerful to share our experiences; we definitely learned a lot from each other.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about teaching EE or any helpful advice you can offer to your fellow environmental educators?

EE helps our students make connections between human health and the earth’s health, identify anthropogenic factors that affect the earth’s ecosystems, and recognize symbiotic relationships that connect us with other organisms on our planet. Understanding these connections motivates them to action. To everyone teaching environmental education – keep up the great, vitally important work!

If you’re a K-12 teacher combining enthusiasm for environmental protection with a passion for teaching, consider applying for the PIAEE. Applications are due March 13, 2015. Thanks to Nathaniel and all our previous winners for their dedication. Keep up the good work!

About the author: Nathaniel Thayer Wight grew up on the San Juan Islands, located in the northwestern corner of Washington State’s Puget Sound. After completing college and a 2-year Peace Corps service, Nathaniel moved to NYC and completed an M.S. degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. Nathaniel has worked in the same high school building in the South Bronx, NYC for the last 10 years. A passionate environmental, energy and sustainability educator, Nathaniel enjoys helping students make connections between environmental problems and sustainable technologies. When Nathaniel isn’t teaching about sustainable energy, he can be found traveling with his family, playing guitar, working in his urban garden, and spending as much time as he can with his wife and baby daughter Sol.

Emily Selia works on communications and outreach for the Office of Environmental Education at EPA. In her free time, she’s doing her best to get outdoors as a volunteer naturalist, engaging children in learning about their local ecosystems.

Nathaniels installs a green roof with students on a Saturday morning

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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A PIAEE Winner’s Path Forward

By Gerry Reymore

Greetings from Vermont! The snow is falling and the temperature is a chilly 20 degrees. As a teacher, I’m busy starting the second half of the school year. If your school is anything like ours, you don’t have time to even blink from now until graduation in June. The rest of the school year just seems to fly by.

This year is especially exciting for me as a winner of the 2014 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). This award recognizes K-12 teachers who connect students to the natural world around them and use innovative methods to teach environmental education. I’m proud to be one of the 2014 recipients. I received financial support for my training, and my school received financial support too. I challenged my students this year to brainstorm what we can do with the school portion of the funding.

We agreed to focus on water and incorporate that theme in as many ways as we can. We’ll be updating our water sampling lab equipment, which will allow us to test water samples at our homes and from the local brook that runs behind our school and into the White River. Our town is building a new water treatment plant and we’ll be working with the town to understand water science from a municipal perspective. Finally, we’ll be installing a remote weather station and a water sampling station in our sugarbush (the forest of maple trees where sap is harvested for syrup). With this equipment, we can sample and test rainwater to relate its properties to the health of the forest. Information we gather will be shared with the Proctor Maple Research Center of the University of Vermont.

As for me, I plan to use this award to improve my understanding of water and the environment, but from a different standpoint: engineering. This summer, I plan to study the Erie Canal in Central New York. I would like to focus on the engineering and construction of this historic project and look at the environmental impacts to tie engineering into my teaching. I can see plenty of lesson plans and lab experiments for next year’s class coming out of this experience.

Applications for the 2015 award are now being accepted. If you’re a stellar teacher who is passionate about environmental stewardship and actively incorporating environmental education into your teaching, I highly encourage you to apply for PIAEE.

EPA, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity to learn more about a subject I’m deeply committed to and to give my students a richer learning environment.

Have a great second half to the school year.

About the author: Gerry Reymore is the Environmental Resource Management Instructor at the Randolph Technical Career Center in Randolph Vermont. Before entering the teaching field 10 years ago, Gerry was vice president of a large Forest management and aerial mapping company in New England. He has a BS in Natural Resource Management from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY and a MSE in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle. WA.

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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Sparking an Interest in Science

By Jim Ferretti

Jim Kurtenbach from EPA demonstrates collection of stream water quality parameters.

Jim Kurtenbach from EPA demonstrates collection of stream water quality parameters.

In its 19th year, the Green Horizons Conference on Careers in Natural Resources and the Environment for Middle Schools is an annual event that introduces middle school students to careers in science. Green Horizons is part of the Environmental Education Advisory Council of New York City. The Green Horizons Conference is rotated among the five boroughs of New York City and includes environmentally diverse locations such as Central Park, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden and Queens Botanical Garden. This year the event was held on October 16, 2014 at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.

A total of 163 students from various middle schools throughout Staten Island had the opportunity to select two science disciplines from over 19 stations established throughout the Snug Harbor complex in areas ranging from land planning, composting, entomology, natural resource restoration, and plant propagation. There were over 50 professionals and educators involved in this year’s outdoor conference. Nancy Wolf from the Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Inc. is the coordinator for this program and touts many benefits for the kids, but the overriding one is the opportunity to introduce young people to all of the different types of careers in science. All of the stations were geared towards hands-on demonstrations and applications of a diverse collection of science and natural resource topics.

EPA employees participated this year with a station on water quality and a stream insect community demonstration which included hands-on measurement of basic water quality parameters and the ability to identify aquatic insects (and an American eel) obtained from sampling a stream at Snug Harbor (eventually flows into the Kill Van Kull). The students were amazed at this complex ecosystem right below the rocks of a small wadeable stream.

About the Author: Jim Ferretti is a team leader for the Sanitary Chemistry and Biology Team for the Laboratory Branch in the EPA’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment. He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and a BS Degree in Water Analysis Technology from California University of PA. Jim has a diversified background in environmental studies and biological laboratory testing. He has been employed at the EPA since 1990, starting out in the water program in headquarters and moving to New Jersey in 1992.

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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We Can All Benefit from Learning More About Our Environment

By Nneamaka Odum

When I was young, I wondered how the earth worked. It wasn’t until attending a special middle school, that I was able to begin my environmental education. As I continued to learn, my passion for the environment grew. My friends who learned with me were all interested in protecting the environment as well. We frequently talked about environmental news, and we especially talked about our future careers. Some of my friends, like me, have gone on to study environmental science, wildlife, and even conservation. I can imagine what it would be like if everyone received the education and resources we did.

Since starting my internship here, I’ve learned that EPA has lots of interesting publications on topics from climate change to asthma control, and much more. And, anyone can get these publications for free – this includes parents, teachers, and schools. So, order some for students and help them start learning about the environment today.

The more kids learn about the environment, and how the earth works, the more they’ll benefit.

Even as a senior in college, I now use these publications in my classes to brush up on environmental science knowledge and share public health information with my family members. Recently, I learned how high energy usage can not only be a result of using appliances, but it can also be caused by water usage in homes.

At any rate, even if you’re not a young student, it’s always good to stay informed!

About the author: Nneamaka Odum is a senior studying Environmental Science and Policy at University of Maryland. She works as an intern in EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

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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Healthy Water, Healthy Kids

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

By Jennie Saxe

Like most children, my kids interact with water in many ways, from the moment they wake up to the moment their little heads hit their pillows. Every day, my boys use water for drinking, bathing, and brushing their teeth. The clothes they wear and the dishes they eat from get washed in water as well. They also love swimming, splashing in puddles, and hiking near (and sometimes falling into) Crum Creek. Because water interacts with nearly every part of our children’s lives, healthy kids depend on healthy water.

From Baltimore to Bangladesh – improving water quality means improving children’s health. As adults, we can do lots of things right in our own communities to make sure our kids have healthy water. Things like supporting local efforts to protect drinking water sources; conserving water resources by installing WaterSense-labeled products; and planting rain gardens to slow the flow of stormwater. And for the kids in other corners of the globe, we can support charitable organizations that bring water resources and sanitation to those who most desperately need them.

There’s something else we can do to help provide healthy waters for our kids into the future: we can teach them about the water resources all around them! Never underestimate what kids can do – their insight, ingenuity, and motivation are unparalleled when they understand connections to their daily lives. You never know…they may come up with their own amazing projects that protect and restore water quality. To get our next generation of water protectors started, EPA has compiled a variety of educational resources and activities geared toward students and educators.

At home, and at work, I always look forward to opportunities to teach children about water resources. Earth Day, Drinking Water Week, Protect Your Groundwater Day, American Wetlands Month, World Rivers Day, and, the upcoming 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act all provide opportunities for communicating with our kids, in language they understand, just how important our precious waters really are.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She’s taught her kids where their water comes from and what happens when it goes down the drain.

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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Te·sito: the gathering of many to work for a common cause, A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story in the Gambia

Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

By Maggie Rudick

Growing up, I remember volunteering for park cleanup projects and school fundraisers, and hearing the phrase, “many hands make light work.”  I understood it, at a superficial level.  But, as I began my Peace Corps service as an environmental and natural resource volunteer in Gambia, “many hands make light work” took on a whole new meaning.

When rice yields from the previous season were low, community leaders in my host village of Kiang Jali got together and brainstormed solutions to avoid the same problem in the future. To grow a sustainable amount of rice to feed the whole village, a new dike needed to be constructed on the outskirts of the village.

This was a daunting task of digging up dirt from one section of the rice fields and creating a 3-foot dirt “wall” for an entire mile.

Kiang Jali women dig to build a dike.

“Who is going to do this work?  There is no equipment or tools!” I exclaimed in Mandinka (the local dialect), to the women’s group president, Daranging.  She gave me a grin and, in her raspy voice, said bluntly, “It’s okay, we’ll finish tomorrow.  Tesito; people will come.”

In the time it took me to walk across the village to my host family’s house, word had spread. Tomorrow.  Tesito. Right after breakfast. 

Kiang Jali  women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Kiang Jali women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Sitting around the food bowl at dinner, I asked the meaning of ’”tesito.”  My host father explained that tesito is when everyone joins together and works towards one task.

He said they had a week-long tesito to build a road and a day-long tesito to clear the peanut fields. I asked him what would happen if someone didn’t go. He laughed, “Why would they stay home? Everyone else is working. It is our duty as members of the village to take care of our land.”

The next day, everyone trekked out to the rice fields. Shovels, picks, hand hoes, buckets, lunch bowls, and water in tow; ready for a day of hard work. The community worked hard, digging and transporting dirt around the rice fields as they laughed, gossiped, and complained about the hot sun. The camaraderie and teamwork of the community was refreshing. The culture of working together for a common goal, and accomplishing a task was rewarding for all.

Even now, I’m reminded of the importance of joining forces and doing what is best for my community and environment, even if I don’t see immediate results. It’s not always possible to show the direct benefits of environmental education, regulation, and outreach; similar to the direct benefit of digging a trench around a rice field for a potential flood. All we can really do is join together and work to be good stewards of the earth. Tesito.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

About the author: Maggie Rudick is an Environmental Protection Specialist in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety Pollution and Protection.

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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