May 30, 2012 - By Olivia Shumaker
Scripps Middle School students learned how to keep our water clean May 24, when the eighth grade students went to Paint Creek to test the health of the river.
"It's called the Stream Leaders Program," said Scripps science teacher Carol Binggeser.
In the Stream Leaders Program, Binggeser and other teachers take eighth grade science students to Paint Creek each year to do a variety of different tests. They report their results to the Clinton River Watershed Council, which then turns the results over to the Department of Environmental Quality with the state of Michigan.
"We've been doing Stream Leaders Program here at Scripps for nine years," said Binggeser.
Nine or ten years ago, General Motors was looking for schools in the area to form a partnership with to launch the Stream Leaders Program as part of their Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN). Binggeser got Scripps involvedin the partnership, as well as partnerships with Eagle Valley Recycle and Disposal Facility and the Clinton River Watershed Council. GM provided roughly $1,000 in equipment to Scripps to perform tests on Paint Creek.
"Six years ago I was asked by a coworker who happened to be an environmental engineer if I would like to help out with a high school river monitoring event that she was supporting with GM volunteers," said Carol Samuelson, a design engineer for GM and volunteer. "I enjoyed it so much, I have continued every fall and spring since then."
In addition to the 110 students and five teachers present at the Paint Creek testing, there were 15 volunteers from GM and Eagle Valley. These volunteers assisted students in running each of the testing stations, as well as drawing on their environmental expertise to act as mentors—and occasionally saving a student from becoming too wet to return to class.
Samuelson has worked in all of the various stations, but her favorite is the physical station, because she can draw on mathematical concepts she uses day to day as a design engineer. She particularly enjoys involving the students in activities stirring their thought process concerning environmental conservation.
"On Thursday, a student asked me why GM engineers would come help them and it opened a whole dialogue on relating what I do in engineering to what skills are gleaned from the watershed protection program," said Samuelson.
While at Paint Creek, Scripps students performed multiple tests on the river with assistance from volunteers and teachers. This included testing chemical attributes, such as the pH, or acidity, level, and testing for dissolved oxygen, which is the amount of oxygen in the river available for organisms to live on. They also collected bugs from the bottom of the river—called benthic macro invertebrates—counted and identified the bugs as a way to determine the health of Paint Creek, as some bugs can tolerate greater pollution than others.
"They learned how to do real science," Binggeser said. "To get out in the field and do what scientists actually do, do actual tests, was a good experience for them."
Ultimately, the Stream Leaders Program proved a success for the students involved, and with luck, next year's eighth grade participants will find the same good results as their predecessors.
"We found that Paint Creek is pretty healthy," Binggeser said. The whole project also inspired a healthy scientific interest in the students involved.
"It was really a great experience. I learned a lot of new scientific terms and I know now how much of an impact humans can have on the environment," said eighth grade student Shannon Line. "We even saved an injured duck!"