By Phil Cooper - Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game
The Lands Council is a Spokane-based non-profit organization whose mission is to "preserve and revitalize Inland Northwest forests, water, and wildlife through advocacy, education, effective action, and community engagement."
Recognizing the challenges that school districts face in funding field trips for science classes, the Council solicits sponsorship funding from business partners to help students get outside to learn about the environment. Once in the field, they become engaged in hands-on, science-based educational activities that enhance their classroom learning.
Business partner funding through the Council covers school field trip transportation costs, lesson plan materials, activities, and other associated expenses. Called "Project Sustain," the program gives kids a chance to apply what they learn in the classroom in an outdoor setting.
Schools apply for Lands Council grants of $1,200 per school to cover expenses associated with four to five field trips. They also receive up to 10 hours of Council-led classroom lessons during the school year as part of the grant.
The program closely aligns with existing school curricula. By participating in activities in the field, students increase their knowledge and field skills, and develop a heightened sense of environmental stewardship.
Idaho Fish and Game aquatic educator Jim Burkholder, Fish and Game fisheries biologist Pete Rust, and I recently had the opportunity to work with The Lands Council's Conservation Program Director Kat Hall on the Project Sustain program. We worked with high-school students and teachers from Lake City High School, Post Falls High School and St Maries High School.
Students collected water quality data from Rose Lake in the fall, winter and spring. Using sampling kits provided through the University of Idaho's IdaH20 Master Water Stewards program, they collected water quality data on the shoreline as well as in the center of the lake.
Knowing that their data would be entered into the Master Water Stewards Online Database upon their return to school, students experienced and learned first-hand the true value of accurate and precise measurements and data collection techniques.
Students measured water clarity, calculated dissolved oxygen levels, determined water pH, recorded water temperatures and had fun digging in the mud for macroinvertebrates and classifying them. They learned the importance of consistency in scientific work by recording GPS locations where they sampled.
The experience took their comprehension of water quality testing, data collection, data recording - and science in general to an entirely new level!
They reached a level that would never be achievable in a classroom setting.
Students from all three high schools recorded and posted data and have been meeting through the Idaho Education Network to communicate results through live, interactive videoconferencing. Here are students from three different high schools, working collaboratively as citizen scientists, to answer the question: "How do abiotic and biotic components of water quality at Rose Lake depend on seasonality?"
I don't know how education can get any better than that!
Through their studies of freshwater aquatic ecosystems and their background research in their classrooms, these students have developed a keen interest in the natural resources that could lead to rewarding and significant careers as natural resource managers.
The area business sponsors of The Lands Council fund this terrific learning opportunity and without them such experiences would not be possible. Kat Hall of The Lands Council, Jamie Esler of Lake City High School, Cindy Rust of Post Falls High School, and Rusti Kreider of St Maries High School are to be congratulated for providing these valuable experiences to students in our area.
I am sure many of these students will remember these as among the best teachers they ever had.
On the bus ride back home over Fourth of July Pass, Jamie Esler asked a student how she felt after the day of field work out on the lake.
"I'm tired, Mr. Esler. But it's a good tired. I feel like I accomplished something today. Learning about science meant something to me today."
Providing area youth with engaging, meaningful, outdoor, experiential, place-based educational experiences simply cannot be repeated within the walls of the classroom. When we work together, we can show the great state of Idaho why it is so important to take care and responsibility for our natural environments, resources and places of recreation.
"As a public educator, and as a local resident, I am very thankful for the hard work and generosity of all parties involved in this project," Jamie Esler, Environmental Systems and Societies teacher at Lake City High School said. "Our students are never going to forget this one. I am already looking forward to the next field trip."
So am I, Mr. Esler.