Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences Wins Grant to Support Watershed Education

banner image

Through a $90,800 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the University of New Orleans’ Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences (PIES) will help prepare more than 20 teachers from south Louisiana to become experts on the lower Mississippi River watershed. The project is part of a nationwide effort to develop a cadre of water educators.

The training will replicate a successful model for environmental education from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), located at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. The center offers professional development, community outreach and K-12 education resources to promote stewardship of local environments. Among the center’s professional development programs are several teacher training institutes focused on inquiry-based teaching, environmental education, literacy and standards-based science curriculum. Three of the institutes are focused on rivers, and one of those is focused on the Mississippi delta.

During the summer of 2016, CGEE will offer a three-day training session in New Orleans entitled “Headwaters to the Delta Connection.” The PIES grant will be used in part to provide field exploration as part of the teacher training experience. In the field, participants will master content related to water quality management, delta geology and coastal land loss. At the conclusion of the institute, teachers will be required to develop action plans for introducing concepts learned, including field trips and stewardship activities. Beyond the training institute, participating teachers will have access to resources and technical support for developing lesson plans as well as an online community where participants can share and access watershed education resources.

In addition to funding field exploration, the PIES award from EPA will provide mini-grants to ensure the participation of a diverse group of educators from south Louisiana. Mini-grants of up to $1,000 will be awarded to as many as 23 participating teachers to cover travel expenses associated with attending the institute, future field trips for students and other resources necessary to implement the watershed curriculum at their schools. The target audience for this project is teachers of grades 3-8 in the greater New Orleans area. Priority will be given to teachers who work with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students. Learning materials will be developed with these target schools in mind.

In addition to EPA and CGEE, another important partnership for the Headwaters to the Delta Connection teacher training institute is the Meraux Foundation, which promotes sustainability and an improved quality of life for residents of St. Bernard Parish. PIES and the Meraux Foundation will provide the venues for field exploration. Over the workshop’s three-day span, participants will spend each day at a different location. For place-based education regarding the Mississippi River and its delta, teachers will spend one day at the Arlene Meraux River Observation Center on the banks of the Mississippi in rural St. Bernard Parish and another day at UNO’s Coastal Education and Research Facility in the marshes of eastern New Orleans. A third day at Maumus Center in Arabi, La. (also in St. Bernard Parish) will focus on urban water management education.

The overall goal of the teacher training institute is to provide first-hand knowledge of the lower Mississippi River watershed and teaching tools to promote environmental literacy in south Louisiana schools and communities. According to Dinah Maygarden, director of coastal education at PIES and the grant’s project manager, approximately 1,000 students will be reached within the first year of the teacher training experience.

“I am thrilled to be working with the group of talented and creative education leaders at CGEE, the Meraux Foundation and other groups to bring this experience to teachers in greater New Orleans,” Maygarden said. “Each professional development workshop of this kind helps to build connections among a network of amazing teachers who can bring the ideas, concepts and skills learned about our amazing river and its delta to their students. This network grows into something pretty amazing as we continue to connect and reconnect over the years.”

“The funds from the EPA grant are valuable particularly for creating the incentives for carrying the workshop components forward into the classroom and to provide field-based inquiry science opportunities for the students of the participating teachers,” she added.

The Mississippi River is a vital part of the nation’s economic, ecological, recreational and cultural heritage. Additionally, the river is a major source for drinking water, transportation, commerce and sediment used to rebuild vanishing delta land. These important connections, however, are not effectively made through the traditional science curriculum. The Headwaters to the Delta Connection will shine a spotlight on the Mississippi River delta and its alarming rate of land loss, which is a major challenge for scientists and engineers along the lower river. By training educators who will influence students over many years, PIES is fostering the development of Louisiana communities who better understand the river and its ecosystem.