Passing the Winding Stream Forward- More Than Just a Pretty Day in the Park

By Andrea Bolks

The big yellow bus pulls up with heads looking in every direction, excited students ready for a morning in the Indiana Dunes with us. They are Julian Middle School 6th graders, from a suburb of Chicago. I am an ORISE fellow, here with some EPA staff along with my mentor, who has been such an amazing teacher to me.  Watching from a bit of a distance as they unload I wonder, will we be able to get across the seemingly complex ideas of stream evolution, health and monitoring to them?

When I was a senior in high school, I switched to an environmental magnet school. I felt like my world opened as I was exposed to important, complex, even life changing environmental concepts. I was touched then; today, it has made me a huge believer in environmental education. This learning process not only fosters positive environmental attitudes, it also motivates and engrains a feeling of commitment to make informed decisions and take responsible action. I really wanted these children to walk away having learned concepts that they could share and that would stick with them as they grew. I hoped today would be more than just a pretty day in the park.

The children’s big smiles and energy filled the air as each of us from EPA went to our stations to teach them about dune formation, the daylighting restoration project, and many types of monitoring including macroinvertebrate, chemistry and habitat. I was absolutely amazed when they connected the eroding stream bank to the beginnings of the formations of an oxbow, when they understood why the winding of the stream slowed its flow and helped create a healthier system, or when they could piece together the linkages between the macroinvertebrate communities they had just learned about and habitat quality.  And they were in awe when they looked along this beautiful stream as we told them a few short years ago this land was a parking lot.

These children were sponges; they took what they had learned in the classroom and what they saw and their wheels started turning.  They didn’t just memorize some facts, they understood concepts, and these concepts might just stick with them, like they did with me.  Stick with them enough so that they too can pass the winding stream forward.

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About the author: Andrea Bolks is a fellow from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Postgraduate Research Participation Program working in the Water Division at Region 5 in Chicago, IL.

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