By: Carter Giegerich
April 13, 2018
Macon County eighth graders got up close and personal with some of the flora and fauna in the Cullasaja River this week, as a group of environmental organizations led each eighth-grade class through the annual Kids in the Creek hydrological program.
“The overarching message, and it ties in to their eighth-grade curriculum with the hydrosphere, is the importance of clean, healthy water,” said Jason Meador, citizen science manager with Mainspring Conservation Trust. “As soon as they get off the bus, we gather them all together and put into perspective how much water is on Earth, and how much is actually drinkable. We have to share that small amount and protect it so we have clean water to drink.”
The program, which took place over four days at the Parker Meadows Complex, led students through four different stations to learn about different aspects of the river and the health of its complex ecosystem. Students studied the chemical makeup of water samples with researchers from the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab, captured and observed macroinvertebrates with staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, learned about the fish that populate the river from Mainspring staff and took measurements of the river’s flow and the physics of the water with other Coweeta scientists.
Getting kids outside and learning about the environment firsthand is a big benefit for students who might otherwise be disinterested in science, said Gary Peeples with the USFWS.
“Being out there in the creek helps them start forming a connection with the landscape and with the stream itself – feeling the cold water, looking and discovering what kinds of animals are there and getting to hold those animals in their hands,” Peeples said. “It’s so much of a richer experience than putting together a slideshow or reading about it in a book. I think it just provides a really deep experience for them, compared to a classroom activity.”
Meador said he’s seen many students benefit from the program in the five years they’ve offered it, both in nurturing their budding interest in science and also just making them more comfortable interacting with the natural world.
“There’s always a few students who just make your day because they make some comment like ‘I had no idea this was in this creek, I come to this park and play baseball or softball and had no idea,’” Meador said. “You can tell they’re genuinely interested and excited to learn something. Other students find out the outdoors isn’t such a scary place, and they’re out here in a whole new world. You can see some students show up a little skeptical or hesitant, and by the end they’re really excited.”
This year’s Kids in the Creek program received a boost from Rotary Club of Franklin Daybreak, with the volunteer organization donating $4,000 to support the programming at Parker Meadows. The funding provided several pairs of new waders, a new aquarium for students to use while studying the fish in the creek, funding for the scientists working the various stations and support staff to provide transportation and other necessary services to facilitate the program.
Rotary representative Billi Black said the Kids in the Creek program provides an ideal opportunity for the club to fulfill their service goals.
“Serving others is our big mission, and then there are six areas of focus. One of those is education, so that’s a big deal for us,” Black said. “And this isn’t just giving them scientific information, it’s giving them an appreciation for their world because they’ll be drinking this water.”