By Brittany DiLeo:
What do you think about when you look out over Lake Erie from downtown Buffalo? Do you think about glaciers and ice ages? Are you reminded of stories from the ’70s about Lake Erie being a dead lake? Lake Erie and the Buffalo River shaped the city we know today but how much do we really know about that history? A ground-breaking new program is making the connection between the Great Lakes and local schools so teachers can start incorporating place-based ecology and history into classrooms. Through this program, students understand their role as stewards of a healthy local ecosystem.
In July 2012, 22 area teachers participated in the Great Lakes Academy: a week-long workshop that gave them hands-on experience in the Buffalo River watershed and on Lake Erie. The week began Beaver Meadow Audubon Center, close to the headwaters of the Buffalo River where participants scooped in the ponds to look for insects and assess the health of the ecosystem. Next, teachers met at Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve where they experienced hands-on activities related to the Great Lakes that they could easily incorporate into the classroom. A field trip to Seneca Bluffs and the Riverbend restoration sites along the Buffalo River gave teachers a historical perspective to the river as they learned about current clean-up and restoration efforts. An educational sailing adventure aboard the Spirit of Buffalo – Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education’s floating classroom introduced teachers to lake ecosystems and pollution issues. On the last day of the training, teachers gathered at Beaver Island to learn about invasive species such as quagga mussels and Asian carp which threaten the health of the Great Lakes.
The teachers thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and felt that the materials and lesson ideas would be useful in their classroom. A high school teacher from Buffalo said at the end of the week, “This is the best workshop I’ve ever been to! I can’t believe it was free.”
This training was only the beginning. Now that school is in session, teachers are already incorporating what they learned into the classroom. Teachers who attended the Academy over the summer also had the opportunity to bring their class out on the sailboat to experience Lake Erie up close! Students learned about the Great Lakes food chain, invasive species, and navigation. Environmental educators from Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve and Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education are also going into these students’ classrooms to present information about how they can help keep their watershed healthy. In the spring, some of the schools will be doing service projects so students can take action and have a positive impact on their local watershed.
In addition to the week-long training, almost 100 area educators attended six-hour workshops called Great Lakes Institutes in 2012. These workshops were held throughout Erie, Niagara and Monroe Counties and teachers received books and other materials to help them incorporate the Great Lakes into the classroom.
The program, NYS Teachers get WET for the Great Lakes, is funded through a generous grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The coalition of environmental organizations that are participating in this program include New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Friends of Reinstein Nature Preserve, Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education, Beaver Meadow Audubon Center, Buffalo Niagara RIVERKEEPER, and New York Sea Grant. Each partner brings a unique perspective to the issues facing the Great Lakes and the collaboration is a great way for educators to meet and learn from local environmental professionals.
Classroom teachers, informal educators, or pre-service teachers that are interested in participating in the 2013 Great Lakes program can contact Brittany DiLeo at Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve firstname.lastname@example.org or (716) 683-5959 for more information.