Thursday, April 17, 2014

PA Students Explore Local Waterways In CBF’s Susquehanna Watershed Ed Program

For the past 24 years, teams of Chesapeake Bay Foundation educators have taken to the Susquehanna River and other Pennsylvania waterways to explore the vast watershed with students and teachers from 85 different middle and high schools.
The mission of the Susquehanna Watershed Education Program (SWEP) is always the same: to teach students about the importance of clean water, to show how stream systems function, and to conduct hands-on experiments that engage and excite a student's sense of exploration.
Nearly every school day SWEP Educators Tom Parke and Alex McCrickard hit the water with their traveling fleet of canoes, 12 in all. Affectionately named by students, In a Pickle, Peas-in-a-Pod, and Tippa-Canoe, and the others have become far more than just boats--each one is a part of the team and of the experience.
Through them, students get to feel and connect with the water. And for students who may have never been in a boat--the SWEP canoes can also help to instill trust and lessen their fears of the water.
The spring season runs through June, with each of the day's lessons--whether it's a hands-on experience with the critters living in the water or the technical water chemistry component--promoting active learning in a way that goes way beyond the classroom. Yet, each one is by-design a compliment to in-class studies.
Honoring a Teacher's Commitment
After 35 years of teaching science at Lower Dauphin Middle School, Mr. Ben Cooper will be retiring. For 19 of those years he has been taking his students out on the water with SWEP, and says "We study freshwater and watersheds, what better way to learn about them than to be in one."
On Tuesday, April 8, Mr. Cooper and 22 of his 6th grade science students joined Tom and Alex for a day on the water at Memorial Lake in Lebanon County. They had planned to explore the Swatara Creek but high-water levels led them to the calmer lake waters.
This was certainly not the first time Tom has been on the water with Cooper.
"I first met Mr. Cooper, Ben, when I was in 5th grade. As a student at Lower Dauphin Middle School, I participated in one of his summer stream study camp programs. Now as an adult, and educator myself, it has been an honor to lead Ben and his 6th graders on the same waterways that I grew up exploring--some with Ben."
Mr. Cooper may be retiring, but there were no signs of somberness as the group paddled into shore. Singing "row, row, row your boat" and counting down "21 bottles of milk on the wall," their songs and laughter could be heard from the shore.
One of the students proudly shared, "I had to do all of my homework, and get it right, just to be able to come today." She was proud of her achievement, as well she should be. And, while brief, her words speak volumes about the value of the program and of student recognition of the rewards of hard work.
After the canoes were loaded back onto the rig and gear put away, Tom surprised Ben by presenting him with a special gift of gratitude and recognition of his commitment to clean water, to his students, and to education. Local TV and newspapers covered the award presentation, with one naming Mr. Cooper a "Hometown Hero."
Tom said, "I asked Ben what he was going to miss most about teaching. He said, 'The kids, I will miss my sixth graders, and the canoe trips, too. But I will continue getting out on the water on my own.'"
Dan Berra, Principal at Lower Dauphin Middle School shared, "Mr. Cooper's commitment to environmental education has touched the lives of literally hundreds of students over his career. We are thrilled that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has chosen to recognize his work in educating our students that we all have a responsibility to care for the watershed in which we live."
CBF would like to extend our gratitude to Mr. Cooper for 35 years of teaching his students the importance of science and water studies, and for encouraging them to love and explore the world around them. We are especially grateful for the 19 years that he has shared those experiences with us.
Before getting onto the school bus to leave, Ben confidently shouted back to us that he would be seeing the team out on the water, another day.
If you are a teacher who wants to get involved with CBF, please visit our website to learn how.
Click Here for more links and photos.

(Written By: Kelly Donaldson, CBF's Pennsylvania Communications and Media Coordinator.)

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