Fourth grade students from Hillsboro and Marion elementary schools gathered Thursday in Central Park, Marion, to learn about protecting the environment, specifically focusing on water quality.
It was the first Marion County Envirofest. Organizer Peggy Blackman said it would not be the last; she is working to expand the event to include home school students and the other elementary schools in Marion County.
“Fourth grade curriculum in science deals with soil erosion,” HES teacher Rod Just said. “I think it’s a great experience. They can see firsthand things about erosion. They can learn how it affects the environment from the experts in the county.”
Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy Coordinator Peggy Blackman organized the event. She contacted both schools and then assembled an array of experts.
Doug Svitak and Grover DePriest of the United States Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service set up a rain simulator. They turned on a four-foot long sprinkler system, similar to the watering system found in the produce section at grocery stores, that rained into four plastic boxes.
The boxes contained four different examples of soils — tilled, non-tilled, soil with crop particles, and soil with grass — and a spout at the end of each box for water to run through. The boxes emptied into mason jars, which revealed strikingly different results. The box with tilled soil emitted water a student compared to the color of root beer, the level of silt in the water being much higher than the other examples. The box with grass emitted water that was nearly clear.
Angela Beavers, the Twin Lakes Project Coordinator for WRAPS, had her students draw on a river to illustrate point source and nonpoint source pollution.
Tonya Richards, Marion County Sanitation director, used a plastic landscape and a squirt bottle, where students would make it rain, to show the effects of rain runoff.
“They’ll continue these messages as adults,” she said. “It was fun to be able to focus on a different group of people and get out of the office.”
Two Marion residents not employed by an environmental conservation agency also helped. Lloyd Davies ran a station where he had students observe microbes from a Kansas river. Harry Bennett talked about trees and grasses.
Art Professor Moon-Hee Chung brought everything together with a water coloring station so students could draw what they learned.
“We wanted a hands-on activity,” Blackman said.
Just thought the students enjoyed themselves.
The experts said education was their favorite part of their job.
“I want them to understand that they have things they can do at, even at their age, to make a difference,” Beavers said.
Blackman gave an example of a student reminding a parent to recycle as a way environmental information can have an immediate effect for students as well as providing long-term knowledge.
“There’s nothing better than to have a child remind an adult,” she said.