Change starts at the grassroots level and an educational program hosted by the Battle River Watershed Alliance (BRWA) brings both community knowledge of the environment to students.
Wetland, Trees, and Forests was started four or five years ago with an environmental steward group called the Iron Creek Watershed Improvement Society, explained Nathalie Stanley, education and outreach co-ordinator.
Hosted at the Kinsmen Community Centre Oct. 25, more than 160 students from grades 4 to 6 had a chance to learn from experts in their respective fields. There were eight groups, some of which have been a part of the event since its inception.
One of the benefits of the program is it includes curriculums from grades 4 and 5. Stanley feels it not only gives them first-hand learning but also gives youths knowledge of things they might be doing anyways. “Kids are more likely to play in the stream catching frogs.”
She believes both presenters and students gain valuable experience from the day. The ultimate goal is for students to take back what they learned and to become stewards of the land.
Grade 6 teacher Sharon Hackett was excited to see students engaged and asking questions as they made their way around the eight different stations. She also enjoyed the reinforcement from what students are learning in the classroom.
“It’s nice for the kids to get the same message in the classroom,” she stated.
One of her students enjoys catching frogs and she thought it was important for him to see the possibility of a career with something he enjoys. “An interest can lead you into the future.”
Students went to each station for about 25 minutes to watch and learn from these groups:
• The Conservation Association presented on amphibians and where they live, how they breed and their lifecycles. Kids loved holding the snakes, said Stanley.
• The Alberta Trappers’ Association showed students some of the more humane trapping methods and the reasons behind catching some of the animals and “how proper trapping can help ecosystems.” Some of the animals found in the boreal forests in Alberta were discussed.
• Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development was all about “trees, how they grow and what they need to survive.” How to tell between some of the evergreen trees in the forest was taught and students had a chance to learn how to tell the age of a tree.
• The Web of Life was presented by the BRWA. Students played a game where a sign was placed on their back and they had to guess what part of an ecosystem they were; after which they used string to show how they were connected to each other and what happens to an ecosystem if you take something away.
• Strix Ecological spoke about their studies of birds and animals in the wild.
• Cows and Fish played a game with students to explain how riparian areas — banks along the water — and how animals work around it. Their mandate is riparian health, explained Stanley.
• Inside Education had two parts. They gave students an understanding of the wetlands, marshes and bogs and how they act as a sponge that slows water flow and helps clean the water. The second part dealt with beavers and discovering how they work.
• Nature Alberta presented Living by the Water, an interactive program where students learned the Cree names of animals and presented to their peers a play acting out the animals’ behaviour.
Each student received a white spruce sapling to take home. Stanley said this is the best time of year to plant them as their roots will be ready for spring.
The BRWA initially wanted to bring students from both St. Augustine and Ponoka Elementary School (PES) but could not accommodate both schools. Their goal is to return at a later date to give PES students a chance to experience the event.