Hands-on Middle School Students Test Environmental Health of Washington Waterway

More than a field trip, more than your average science project, participation in the Nisqually River Education Project, conducted by Joy Roth’s middle school class at Washington Virtual Academy (WAVA), is making a difference in the health of the environment in the Great Northwest.

“The project is significant in giving students the opportunity to make a difference in our community,” says Roth, who has supervised the effort for five years. “The Pacific salmon are so important to all of us and WAVA’s students work in the field, testing water quality of the Nisqually River to help protect those salmon.”

WAVA, a K12 school, takes part in the study along with schools all along the Nisqually from Mount Rainier to the Puget Sound.

This year, six of Roth’s students participated, using a scientific method to conduct tests for pH, turbidity, nitrates, and dissolved oxygen in Yelm, Washington, on the Nisqually Indian Reservation. Tests are conducted in February and October, with data sent to the Washington Department of Ecology, Nisqually Native Fisheries, and other agencies that monitor the river for health or “hot spots.”

“It’s science in action,” Roth says. “During our tests, the students are using the scientific method to test river water. Then, to figure out if their results are accurate and meaningful, that’s where their math skills come in.”

The students, guided by Roth and marine biology specialist Sharon Rasmussen (a former WAVA teacher), also prepared a PowerPoint presentation for “Student Green Congress” at Evergreen State College (Olympia) on March 20, sharing their findings with other schools and developing a call to action for issues needing immediate attention.

“Our water, this year, was totally fine,” observes sixth grader Tim T. “But there are a lot of aspects to the water to consider, which led to ideas (at Student Congress). Not every project is doable. Not everyone can fix every single car (to prevent oil runoff), but our idea concerning pet waste is very doable. It doesn’t take a genius or a lot of effort for people to clean up after their pets.”

“I think it’s really cool that students are making an impact because of the importance of getting rid of waste and awareness that can help us reduce pollution.”

WAVA classmate Sofia A. agrees that awareness of pollutants in and around the river can make a dramatic impact on the quality of life in the region.

“We’ve learned how to keep track of what’s in water and how to keep bad pollutants out to help the environment,” she says. “It may be as easy as picking up trash around the edge of a lake.”

WAVA’s education and Roth’s commitment extend beyond gathering and testing water samples. During the past five years, her students have planted close to 100 Douglas fir trees along the Nisqually River shoreline to help control temperatures.

Additionally, those participating in the Student Congress had the opportunity to take part in programs ranging from live bird symposiums to musical presentations to the dissection of a salmon.

“Being part of the Nisqually Rivershed Project has given our students so many opportunities,” Roth says. “The opportunity to use their science and math Skills in a meaningful way, the opportunity to go to Evergreen College and present what they have learned with other students, and most of all, the opportunity to help protect the salmon.”

“This is especially important to middle school students who are trying to figure out who they are and how they can be a part of a community. The hands-on application of science and math is what makes the connections ‘come alive.’ They never forget the lessons they learn.”

Environmental health is just one of many topics students discover at WAVA and other K12 schools, where online education truly goes hand-in-hand with hands-on experience. For more information visit K12.com, find a school and enroll, or sign up to receive free info.


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