There has been much concern lately about water-quality levels in the Animas Watershed. We often take for granted that rivers can be floated, jumped in and enjoyed, especially in a town such as Durango with the Animas running through it and multiple rivers in the area feeding into the river system. This certainly is disheartening, but it is important to teach students why these things happen and ways they can make a difference.
Durango Nature Studies strives to use STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and nature education to learn about nature’s systems so that ultimately we will create scientists of the future that will make thoughtful decisions about how humans interact with natural systems.
In the early school years, this starts with creating an understanding and love for nature. This is what our grade-school programs try to instill through our standards-based school programs and more free-flowing summer camps.
One of our favorite examples of metamorphosis continues to be a child that is scared of bugs at the beginning of a program and fascinated by them when they leave.
We are moving into a very exciting area at Durango Nature Studies. This year we will be working with all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in Durango School District 9-R. Our programs for this age will adapt to developing field scientists and introducing human impact on ecosystems. Rather than just learn about nature’s inhabitants and systems, students will learn about how they change, both through natural processes and through human impact. We will try to prepare them to be problem-solvers that build their solutions on an understanding of cause and effect in the natural world.
We just completed a trial run of our new eighth-grade program with students from Miller Middle School. We worked closely with Marty Moses and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to look at a watershed and try to assess human disturbances and possible impacts on the environment. Thanks to materials donated by NRCS, we were able to examine deliberate and inadvertent human alterations to ecosystems by using a river simulator (a large, hands-on model that we took into the classrooms). Using the simulator, they manipulated the channel width, depth and shape of a river, as well as adding and subtracting vegetation to the riverbanks.
The beauty of following up these lessons with time at the Nature Center is that students actually are able to see what they are learning in the classroom. Students looked for signs of erosion, invasive species, landfill trash, decreased biodiversity, grazing and more to see ways that a watershed might be impacted. They also learned ways to mitigate damage and create healthier watersheds. DNS and NRCS staff led three groups in riverbank restoration through cottonwood-planting, trench-digging and willow-bundling and planting. Using this knowledge, students were asked to follow up with a letter to a local, regional or national land management agency to suggest better management practices for future generations.
The key to the future is through healthy and sustainable solutions built on an understanding of natural systems. Our middle-school programs will be building on this concept as we help to develop the thinkers, doers and scientists of the future.