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June 22, 2013

Local students learn nature with watershed program

Staff Report
The Daily Star

---- — A group of area students and teachers had hands-on field experience and fun recently at Hartwick College’s Pine Lake Environmental Campus for the culmination of a yearlong effort, according to a media release from Hartwick College.

About 125 students in fifth and sixth grades from Riverside Elementary, Charlotte Valley, and Gilbertsville-Mount Upton Central schools, as well as the Oneonta Adult Education program, participated in the June 7 events. It was part of the Think, Act, and Protect the Upper Susquehanna (TAP-US) River watershed initiative. There were a number of experiential learning activities designed with a hands-on approach to learning in mind.

It’s funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training Program to train regional K-12 teachers and students about the Susquehanna River and its connection to the Chesapeake Bay.

“The focus of TAP-US is to get students and their teachers outside the classroom to learn about their natural environment,” said Brian Hagenbuch, director of Hartwick’s Pine Lake Institute for Environmental and Sustainability Studies and director of the TAP-US initiative. “As demonstrated by the lesson plans developed by our first cohort of K-12 TAP-US teachers, hands-on learning in the field can be fun and provides a real world context for what is taught in the classroom.”

During Field Day, 13 Hartwick students assisted Hartwick faculty and local school teachers in engaging the visiting schoolchildren in hands-on learning activities. Students sampled Charlotte Creek for aquatic organisms, tested Pine Lake soil and water quality, identified trees and invasive species, visited an archaeological dig, and participated in a scavenger hunt and watershed field games.

“The Field Day created a valuable opportunity for Hartwick students to teach what they have been learning, as well unforgettable field-based experiences for the children,” said Hagenbuch. “It’s a chance for local students to gain a first-hand understanding of the importance of of our watersheds and how we can all work to protect them.”

Suzanne Johnson, a sixth-grade teacher at Riverside Elementary School, was among the first group of teachers to enroll in the TAP-US training last summer.

“TAP-US made it possible for me to bring my students into the wild, as opposed to trying to bring the wild into my classroom,” she said. “It’s much more motivating for them to have those experiences where they get wet, whether it’s rain or walking in streams. Enduring the Mud Lake Bog hike has become a metaphor for being able to ‘endure’ classroom challenges. For me, this experience has not only helped me to turn my students into much better advocates for a cleaner world, it has helped me, too.”

The TAP-US initiative has received funding for next year and is currently recruiting teachers to participate in a weeklong teacher development workshop in July.

“We work with local teachers to develop lesson plans they implement in school,” Hagenbuch said. Through the Pine Lake facility, “we enhance their ability to take their plans outdoors.” Anyone wanting to get information about participating in the initiative can contact Hagenbuch at 607-431-4518 or hagenbuchb@hartwick.edu.

More information on the program is available on the TAP-US website at www.hartwick.edu/tapus.