Water Guardians Afterschool Club Receives Funding for 2022/2023 School Year

The Mountain Watershed Association (MWA) is happy to announce a new upcoming education project: the Water Guardians After School Youth Club.

During the 2022-23 school year, this club will take place at Springfield Clifford N. Pritts Elementary in Normalville, and at West Crawford Elementary in Connellsville. For each school, Water Guardian club meetings will occur twice a month and provide students with a plethora of opportunities to gain experience through ecology-based activities. These activities will be centered around discussing water quality, climate change, and environmental justice issues. It is important to us that this club is accessible to all students, so we will not require a club application fee. Overall, our main goal is to spark a connection between students and the local environment they live in.

MWA is currently developing the club’s lesson plans and itinerary. Our club meetings will be spent doing one of the following: we will either have a guest speaker visit, a classroom activity, or field trip. We would like to bring in guest speakers so we can introduce students to different careers within the field of ecology. These individuals could potentially be species specific biologists (ornithologist, herpetologist, botanist), aquatic scientists, abandoned mine drainage experts, environmental justice advocates, etc.

Any classroom activities we host will be extremely hands-on—we want to do more than lecture; we want to have fun! Lastly, our field trips will provide students with real world experiences. We want to take the Water Guardians on tours of our abandoned mine drainage treatment systems, show them the difference between high quality and impacted streams, and introduce them to ways ecologists conduct research surveys–i.e.: getting students in the stream and showing them how to sample for macroinvertebrates.

It is extremely important to us that we formulate our lesson plans using the highest quality information. To do this, we will pull ideas from other DEP environmental education programs, reflect on Pennsylvania’s ecology state science standards, review what is currently taught in the field, and run all plans by our on-staff outdoor education specialist. Although Water Guardian club activities will be based around scientific research and education, there will be absolutely no pressure on our students to perform well academically. We will not grade our activities, test students’ knowledge for correctness, or send them home with mandatory homework. Purely, our only intention through this club is to introduce our members to their local environment and deepen their general understanding of ecology.       

The Water Guardians club is able to exist thanks to grant funding from the DEP’s Environmental Education level one grant, volunteer engagement, and MWA’s strive to invest in our community. By being awarded the DEP 2022 Environmental Education Grant, MWA has the capacity to bus students on field trips, develop a club resource library, and bring in experts. Additionally, MWA’s education committee and both host schools have committed to support the Water Guardians by contributing time and/or resources to this project. This funding and support has allowed us to waive the need for club dues—the Water Guardians will be free and available to all interested students.

MWA is excited to start the Water Guardians because we recognize that there was a community push to bring environmental discussions into the classroom. We know this because from 2021-2022 we asked the local community for management recommendations as a part of our Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) funded Indian Creek Conservation Management Guide project. Along with proposing management recommendations, we also asked the community to rank their recommendations by importance. Every single education related recommendation was ranked as “high priority”—meaning that Indian Creek residents felt they needed to be addressed as soon as possible.

We hope everyone is as excited as we are for this new endeavor! If you are interested in having your child become a Water Guardian keep an eye on our social media accounts and MWA website for updates. Additionally, if you would like to support the Water Guardians in any way, please feel free to reach out to either morgan@mtwatershed.com, or hannah@mtwatershed.com.  Specifically, we would like to recruit ambitious parents/guardians or high school aged students during the school year to assist with the club while it is actively meeting. However, we are open to any help and would love to hear feedback and advice from all community members!

The following PDF is of our project proposal that we submitted for DEP funding. This proposal is all encompassing and goes into detail about the specifics of the Water Guardians.