The weather was clear and sunny as children piled out of the yellow school buses and gathered on the field at the north end of campus on Friday, Sept. 29, the day of the 15th annual Water Festival.
The event, which was organized by the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC), hosted 499 fifth grade students from 20 classes, seven schools and four counties. These students got to participate in many different activities to learn about fresh water resources.
At one activity station run by The Nature Institute, students followed the directions on giant dice to simulate the path a drop of water might take through the water cycle.
In another area, James Moss, an Assistant Professor at Lewis & Clark, gestured to a swath of restored prairie behind him. “When a lot of water falls on the ground over there, is it going to flow fast or slow?” he quizzed the students. “Slow!” answered a few. “That’s right,” he said, going on to explain that an acre of prairie can absorb up to nine inches of rain in an hour.
Other activity stations included a fishing demonstration run by the Illinois Department of National Resources and rides in an authentic voyageur canoe. The former went over very well with Keaton Bertoldi, age 11. “I liked the fishing station because we’ve never gotten to fish on a field trip!” he said.
This mixture of fun and games with learning seems like an effective way to teach fifth-grade students about an important topic. Margie Chilovich, a fifth grade teacher at Sorento Elementary School agreed. “As a teacher, I thought the Annual Water Festival was a great opportunity for students to see how many ways water is important to our lives. Besides the fact that we need water to survive, they also saw it is also critical to the survival of animals,” said Chilovich.
This response fits right in with NGRREC’s motivation for the event. “Education in freshwater topics, particularly given our proximity to several large rivers, is a key part in growing the next generation of environmental stewards,” said Alison Rhanor. Rhanor is Environmental Educator at NGRREC and coordinated the last three Water Festivals. Her goals for the Water Festival are rather ambitious. “We are interested in introducing students to their fresh water resources an any and all capacities. That means that topics from water recreation to water pollution to water issues in developing nations are touched on at the Festival,” she said.
This approach has been a success with teachers and students. “My favorite part of every Water Festival is watching the students learn and gain a greater appreciation for water,” said Jason Chapman, a fifth grade teacher at North Elementary School. “Today I learned how water is cleaned and then sent to our house,” said Lyndsey Miller, age 10.
The Water Festival gives an exciting look at how fun and hands-on Environmental Education can be. Alison Rhanor had some advice for Lewis & Clark students thinking about pursuing this career field; “Become involved in your community, and volunteer at local organizations. Increase your experience working with kids and speaking to the general public on environmental topics. A degree (in) and environmental field is also a huge plus.”