Grant to aid environmental education

By Harold Gwin

Monitoring of local stream water quality will be one program focal point.

YOUNGSTOWN — Identifying and resolving environmental problems in the city will be the task of some 500 city school sixth-graders.

The school district, in conjunction with Youngstown State University, has secured a three-year, $60,000 grant from Earth Force, an environmental education agency, and the Global Rivers Environmental Education Network to finance a Watershed STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Initiative.

The pupils will be challenged to identify specific environmental concerns and then map out civic plans of action to resolve them.

The program will give them real-world experience, said Karen Green, administrative assistant to the superintendent of schools. It connects what they learn in the classroom with some hands-on outdoor activity, she said.

The initiative will focus on civic engagement, said Cathy Constance, K-12 supervisor of science for the city schools.

It will expose the children to their community outside the classroom while requiring them to make use of what they’ve learned in the four STEM subjects as well as social studies, Constance said, noting that the curriculum is aligned to the state standards but goes a step further into a project-based effort.

“Problem-solving is a big part of the program,” she added.

Earth Force will bring in trainers to “teach the teachers” how to run the program, Green said, noting that the initiative will begin in late January or early February. A total of 15 teachers will be involved.

Stream monitoring will be one of the focal points, with Earth Force and Global Rivers providing the appropriate monitoring equipment, and the pupils may choose to address concerns they find with local watersheds.

But they may also identify other environment-related problems in the community such as lead testing of water in homes or concerns about public parks.

The choice of topics is really up to the school and the pupils, according to Green and Constance.

The outcome is basically the same, however.

Once a problem is identified, the pupils must devise a strategy for dealing with it, including, but not limited to, addressing public officials and community groups.

Earth Force believes that engaging children in authentic civic action is the most effective way to give them the knowledge and skills they need to be involved in public life.

This program allows them to address issues that are important to them and devise ways to deal with those issues through public advocacy or community education.

Global Rivers seeks to get young people involved as active citizens who want to improve conditions in their watersheds and are willing to create lasting solutions to that end.

It offers opportunities for them to acquire essential academic skills as well as develop critical-thinking, teamwork, problem-solving and decision-making abilities while involved with their communities on water quality issues.

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