It's a high-pollen-count day here in North Carolina, so we're all coughing and wheezing our way through the day as best we can. It's one of those days when nature simply refuses to be ignored as a backdrop for everything else going on.
As I watched this weekend's rain sweep the yellow-green pollen down the driveway and into the storm sewers, I was reminded of the local creeks and streams even in our metropolitan area in the Research Triangle that are essential to the clean, fresh water we expect when we turn on our taps every day.
How do we get from pollen-clogged storm sewers to streams and then all the way to the clean water in our homes? The Center for Human-Earth Restoration not only teaches students that process but also engages them in the effort to measure the water in the creeks and streams in their local parks and neighborhoods.
We could use your help for our young scientists!
We need 20-30 water-testing kits for our upcoming youth camps so that our junior scientists can measure the chemical makeup in local streams over the coming weeks, track that information, and extrapolate from the data. Check out our website and donor packets for more information on how you can support budding scientists.
When students take part in our weeklong camps or daycamp programs, they join us on expeditions to local parks and land-conservancy spaces to observe, measure, and record their findings on local ecologies. Our teaching methods, based on the work of Aldo Leopold and Thomas Berry, encourage children to create classrooms in their own backyards and communities and supplement their brick-and-mortar learning through practice in nature.
One of the many neighborhood streams we've included in our camp program is the Kenneth Branch, a tributary that runs from the south edge of Fuquay, North Carolina, all the way to the Cape Fear River. The Kenneth Branch travels through agricultural sites, residential areas, and a factory site. Last fall, our students learned about the various human-use activities that take place along the meandering Kenneth Branch, and they took water samples along the stream's path.
Using water-testing kits, the junior scientists learned that by the time the stream reaches our home park in Fuquay-Varina, the water is fairly clean, with phosphates and nitrates within normal ranges and with plenty of healthy water life that can be observed and measured. There are fresh-water mussels, crayfish, dragonfly nits, and plenty of microinvertebrates. Our junior scientists also noted a rocky stream bed and a healthy, sandy sediment bottom that allow for a wide variety of organisms.
The students observed in a nearby stream that excess sediment can block sunlight, create algae that clogs the gills of fish, and serve as a sponge that holds agricultural chemical runoff, such as phosphates and nitrates.
They also measured and recorded the temperature at the time of sample collection, because temperature can increase or decrease the amount of oxygen in the water. And where do fish like to stay? Wherever there's more oxygen, of course! And they collected the data to prove it.
Our junior scientists love collecting water samples, measuring the various components of stream and creek water, and recording their findings. They come to understand how different "doing science" is in the field from how it is to "do science" in the classroom. They ask more questions. They seek more answers on their own after getting initial answers from instructors. They make links that cannot possibly be taught in the classroom or through books.
CHER instructors love these outdoor classroom experiences as much as the students do. And with your help, we can bring a lot more of the Kenneth Branch to our junior scientists! With the addition of 30 water-testing kits, we could accumulate data from each week of our summer camps along the Kenneth Branch and create a timeline of testing each week over the entire summer, so that students can learn how time, weather, and the agricultural seasons impact the same area of the same stream.
Students work in groups of three on one water-testing kit: One student records the data that the other two students collect. One test kit can run an average of 30 tests, so that we can engage as many as 90 students in assessing the health and components of the creeks and streams in their local communities.
Test kits cost about $10 each. It's not much, but it adds up when you're working with hundreds of junior scientists participating in camps over the summer.
Would you like to help a budding scientist learn more about the Kenneth Branch and other local streams? Click here and make a small donation. Or request a donor packet to learn about other ways you can help.
Please do visit our website and learn more about what the Center for Human-Earth Restoration is doing here in North Carolina to "bring the Earth into the hearts of all."