The cold and blustery weather on March 31 did not dampen the spirits of close to 30 people who gathered at NOAA.
The group that was gathered together represented a broad range of agencies, experiences and backgrounds. I joined park staff from Virginia Master Naturalists to work towards a common goal – to better provide MWEE's for Virginia's school children.
What in theworld is a MWEE?It's aMeaningful Watershed Education Experience which is an extensive project that allows students to gain a deep understanding of the Chesapeake Bay watershed through research, hands-on activities and reflection periods.
According to Page Hutchinson, MWEE Grant Coordinator for the Virginia Office of Environmental Education and a MWEE trainer:
The Chesapeake Bay is our nations largest estuary, a place of magnificent beauty that provides many Virginians their livelihoods and the rest of us pleasure. Unfortunately, the health of the Bay is poor and we, the citizens of Virginia, are at least partly responsible for that condition. Watershed education for every citizen is vital so we can make better lifestyle decisions, thus improving the quality of the Bay, one of our most important natural resources. The Virginia Office of Environmental Education at DEQ is both happy and proud to be part of bringing watershed education to the citizens of Virginia.
The ideal situation for every school child would be to spend time outside in a parkgetting up-close and personal with the creatures that live in our waters. However, with school budgets cut throughout the state, and field trips getting hit hard, there are times when theonly option for providing some hands-on experiences for students is by bringing the park to them!
Throughout the course of the day Ellen Reynolds, educatorwith the Beagle Ridge Herb Farm and the Mountain Soil and Water Conservation District worked with Page to provide an outstanding array of ideas that would do just that. Interactive games were played that introduced concepts of food chains, pollution problems, life cycles and habitat needs. Plans were given for creating both portable and permanent stream tables and outdoor classroom water features. There was time for brainstorm, networking and idea sharing.
But the best part of the day came when Ellen broke out the leaf packs she'd placed a month before in a cold, clear stream in the headwaters of the Bay watershed. Leaf packs are created by tightly packing leaves in a net bag, then submersing them for up to a month in a shallowstream bed. These mimic the natural leaf packs that can be seen in forest streams, and are like fast food for aquatic macro invertebrates. The packs where transported in cold, clean water, and Ellen and Page went over the logistics of keeping the critters inside them happy and alive during transportation.
Then the fun began! We all receiveda pan with some leaves from the pack, identification charts and variousways to pick up thecritters without harming them. As everyone hunkered downand carefully picked through the pans you could hear the excitement when a creature was found: "I have a stone fly larvae!" "I just got a caddis fly – check him out, he looks like he's dancing!"
As exciting as it was to make these discoveries we knew the importance behind finding them – there are certain macro invertebrates that will not survive in water that is polluted. Finding ones that are indicators of good water quality means the stream the leaf pack came from was clean, which is good news for the Chesapeake Bay. And the impact on a child of making that kind of discovery themselves, seeing the living things that need clean water to survive,learning what they can do to help protect them and understanding their own place in the world at large through a connection with nature is priceless.