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Second-graders learn who polluted the Flat River, & how it improved

Testing the water and keeping it clean

Who polluted the Flat River?

It was a brief history lesson, and as much a “how” question as a lesson in ways to keep freshwater sources clean — and Alto Elementary students were drinking it in.

Jackson Coolbaugh helps classmate Owen Crawford get into waders so he can get into the creek

Second-graders from across the district spent time recently at the Wittenbach/Wege Environmental Agriscience Center as part of their water resources unit.

Center Director Courtney Cheers led an ick-inducing demonstration to show how runoff from roads, farms and industry affects waterways, as well as how lawn and garden products, everyday trash and dumping chemicals on the ground make water unsafe for drinking, swimming, wildlife and fish.

How can you clean that? she wondered aloud.

“Get a net and start scooping stuff out,” offered Ava Weller.

A student on the other side of the room had a suggestion: “Go scuba diving, use a GoPro and try to find out who did it,” he said.

Wittenbach Wege Center Director Courtney Cheers tells second-graders about the national monitoring program

Big Responsibility

Students headed to nearby Lee Creek to test the pH, oxygen level, cloudiness (called turbidity) and temperature as part of the World Water Monitoring Challenge. The international activity invites kids, teens and adults to test the quality of freshwater sources near them, and upload their readings to a website for scientists to monitor.

They pulled on waders and dipped nets into the chilly creek and examined their findings. Certain insects indicate health of the water, explained naturalist Shannon Goodwin.

Jayden Pelletier examined a caddisfly in his net and a stonefly scooped by a classmate, then consulted a chart to see whether their presence indicated healthy or unhealthy conditions.

“Looks like we’re clean,” he declared.

With the Great Lakes making up the world’s largest freshwater system on the planet, “we have a big responsibility living here to keep the water clean,” Cheers told students. “If we all make better choices, everyone can continue to enjoy it.”


SNN article: Building a groundswell of support for fresh water

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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