Students learn about water quality, testing as part of Service Learning Group experience

Thursday, October 4, 2012
(By Sabrina Westfall) The Plummer/Richland Creek Watershed Service Learning Group spent some time in Richland Creek behind Shawnee Theatre for their first field day taking samples. The students are (from left) Kayla Drogich, Amber Coker, April McKay, Shane Obannon, Hannah Kocher, and Joshlyn Held.

Plummer/Richland Creek Watershed Coordinator Adam Grossman was joined by six students from the Service Learning Group (SLG) to take samples from Richland Creek on Wednesday evening.

April McKay and Shane Obannon from Eastern Greene High School, Joshlyn Held and Amber Coker from White River Valley High School, and Hannah Kocher and Kayla Drogich from Linton-Stockton High School spent time in the portion of Richland Creek behind Shawnee Theatre in Bloomfield taking macroinvertabrate samples.

WRV Agriculture teacher Sam Zuckschwerdt and Eastern Greene Environmental teacher Melissa Shephard joined the students.

Grossman noted other students from area schools will also be participating in the SLG, but were unable to make it to the first field day.

"They are learning how to test and monitor water quality," Grossman explained about Wednesday's field day. "It's a good chance to let them get their feet wet - literally - and let them see what they are dealing with."

Grossman said the SLG will be in charge of putting together a management plan for urban and rural areas to help designate where the Plummer/Richland Creek Watershed grant funding will be distributed.

"They will decide what to do with the grant money, where it will go and this gives them the chance to learn about conservation," Grossman explained.

Grossman said he will be the mediator between the students and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), and provide insight to the students when needed.

The goal is to have a comprehensive two-year plan to reduce watershed and improve water quality submitted to IDEM within the next two years, and they will have to approve the plan before the project can start.

"They have their own chairperson. They come up with the best management practices on where the money should go and they have to teach the community," Grossman said.

He noted he was thankful for the help of Hoosier Energy for donating the waders so the students could enter the water.

McKay was enthusiastic about the opportunity to take part in the SLG because she wants to be a Wildlife Researcher.

"I enjoy being able to find things, and learn how they help, or hurt, the environment. ... When you come out here you actually create a relationship with the environment," McKay said.

She added she spends a lot of free time going out into the community and searching for critters while she takes her pets for walks.

"I could play in creeks all day and not know what I'm touching. It's different with Adam here to help - he has been to college, he has worked with the environment - and he can tell us what we are handling instead of Googling for three hours," McKay explained.

McKay said knowing she will play a part in the designation of the grant funds made her feel powerful and have a feeling of responsibility.

"It's a lot of fun, but small choices that don't seem to mean a lot in the moment can effect a lot of people," McKay explained.

Shephard said the SLG has more opportunities than just working with normal classroom utilities.

"That piece of equipment right there costs thousands of dollars. It measures water temperature and oxygenation. In my class students would just have to toss a thermometer in the water," Shephard said.

She added the students seem even more enthusiastic knowing they are working with real life scenarios that will affect their community.

"They are becoming involved with government money. It's not a made-up story. What they are doing is going to mean something. ... The samples they are taking right now, Adam will be sending them to the state to monitor this portion of Richland Creek," Shephard said.

Shephard said she believes the excitement from Wednesday's outing will help bring in more students to take part in the project.

"They are not getting paid. They are not getting credit. They are not getting a bonus. They are doing this because they want to," Shephard explained.

Zuckschwerdt said he was pleased to see the enthusiasm shown by the students as they gather information from the creek.

"I haven't seen kids so excited about bugs since elementary school," Zuckschwerdt said.

Zuckschwerdt added the SLG is a chance for students to get hands-on experience, work in conservation, learn about the environment and get a sense of community service.

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