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Planet Main
In This Section
PDF January/February 2006
e-mail December 20, 2005
e-mail October 28, 2005


The Power of Many
How We Saved the Arctic Refuge (For Now)
Getting Somewhere on the Bridges to Nowhere
Cities Get Cool
Measuring Mercury
Fighting for the Valle Vidal
Building Trust
There's No Limit to Colorado's Power
Finding Common Ground
Trickle-Down Activism
‘Hey, I Can Do This’
I Can Smell for Miles and Miles
Building Environmental Community One Canyon at a Time
Paper to Pixels
Sierra Summit Soars
‘Why Live If You Don't Have Something to Struggle For?’
Expanding Excom
Club Charts Direction for Next Five Years
Big Easy to Beltway: ‘Where's the Beef?’
2005 Timeline
Faces of the Sierra Club


Hope Surfaces in Katrina's Wake
Snapshots from the Summit
Democracy Breaks Out
Rally for the Arctic
A Better Legacy
Thoroughbred Power Plant Blocked
John Swingle
Betsy Bennett
Larry Fahn
Is Your City a Cool City?
Endangered Species Act Endangered
Smithfield Shareholder Resolution
Owens Valley Victory
New Energy Bill Exploits Katrina
From the Editor: Wake of the Flood
Search for a Story
Back Issues

The Planet
Trickle-Down Activism

A watershed class helps train teachers and young activists. And helps keep creeks clean.

by Tom Valtin

Getting Results: Above, third graders Jacob Harris, Johnquez Rogers, and Jasmine Yates of Highlands Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama, conduct pH tests on water samples they've gathered from a local stream. Below, science teachers Naomi Bukland of Birmingham and Rutha Thomas of Huntsville hold up the latest Sierra Club fashions at the Alabama Chapter’s first environmental teacher training at the Camp McDowell Environmental Center.

To commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Huntsville, Alabama, science teacher Linda Hardee took her third grade class out to the creek near their school, where they waded in and scooped up water samples that they then analyzed and sent to the citizen watchdog group Alabama Water Watch. Their data will be included in an AWW report to the state Department of Environmental Management.

How did third graders come to be doing water-quality monitoring? The Sierra Club’s Water Sentinels Program decided to train public school science teachers so they can provide hands-on instruction to their students, making watershed science not just theoretical but something students can actively do. Now, 1,200 Alabama school kids are helping keep their local waterways clean.

The Watershed class was held June 20-24 at the Camp McDowell Environmental Center in Nauvoo, Alabama. Longtime Sierra Club activist Mark Johnston has been Camp McDowell’s executive director for 15 years, honing its focus on environmental issues; his wife, Chapter Vice Chair Margaret Wade Johnston, directs the Environmental Center.

The class was the brainchild of Dr. Bryan Burgess, chapter conservation chair and a geography adjunct professor at nearby Jacksonville State University. “More than 55,000 kids have gone through Camp McDowell,” he says. “I’d see teachers coming to the camp with all these kids, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to include a program for teachers as well?’”

The result? Ten teachers from around Alabama spent a week taking field trips into local watersheds and learning the science involved in water testing. With Maggie Johnson, Burgess designed the class to comply with the state science curriculum so participants could earn graduate credit, and he brought on board several instructors, including Water Sentinels Director Scott Dye, Jacksonville State colleague David Steffy, and an Alabama Water Watch trainer to certify participants as AWW monitors. Dye donated a $250 AWW testing kit to each participant for their classrooms.

“Now, when I teach about water-quality testing, I use the kit, analyze the results, and my students gain perspective they couldn’t have acquired from traditional teaching means,” says Mike McCandless, a teacher form Haleyville. “Science doesn’t get any better than this.” Nancy Roy of Wetumpka says her class now revolves around the specific problems faced by her school’s local watershed. Janet Phillips of Cullman says the field work at the training was particularly useful.

Burgess, whose session focused on sources of water pollution and the importance of volunteer monitoring, got the Friends of Rural Alabama and Sand Mountain Concerned Citizens to purchase Sierra Club memberships for all attendees and instructors to generate new activists and get Sierra magazine into the teachers’ classrooms.“The teachers who reach 1,200 students this year will reach that many again next year, and as we train more teachers the number of students reached will grow exponentially,” he says.

“When you look at the number of kids benefiting from this hands-on training, it’s a pretty darned good deal,” says Dye. “You’re talking about an initial investment of $10 per student, but once a teacher is certified and their classroom equipped, that investment yields returns year after year—a gift that keeps on giving.”

top photo by Linda Hardee, bottom photo by David Roberts

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