Albion College Collaborates with Harrington Elementary on Freshwater Literacy

A state MiSTEM grant facilitates the introduction of new K-5 lessons in 2023.

June 22, 2022

The Kalamazoo River at the Whitehouse Nature Center is a short walk from Harrington Elementary School.

Thanks to a recent grant from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy of the State and the MiSTEM NetworkAlbion College is partnering with Marshall Public Schools (MPS) to develop a curriculum for Harrington Elementary School that will teach basic grade-level concepts in freshwater literacy to students in kindergarten through 5th grade.

Starting in January, with lesson plans for the classroom and outdoors created this summer and fall, the WaterSmarts project will engage up to 16 MPS teachers and 300 students in problem-based learning, places and projects. With a focus on the nearby Kalamazoo River, students will learn the vital importance of groundwater through concepts that match their grade levels and are linked to state standards in science and social studies.

“Encouraging community members, especially children, to interact with their natural environment was the biggest motivation for me,” says Dr. Joe Lee-Cullin, assistant professor of earth and environment at Albion College, who is currently developing the program with Albion. education students Sarah Stockton, ’23, Mason Darden, ’23, and Mikayla England, ’24. “I think it’s especially important to have conversations about groundwater, which a lot of people never think about,” says Lee-Cullin. “Groundwater plays such an important role in our daily lives as the main freshwater resource we depend on, not just in our homes, but in all industries, from agriculture to textiles.”

Dr. Ellen Wilch, currently an administrative assistant in the College’s Department of Earth and Environment and a former hydrologist, educator and groundwater consultant, co-wrote the grant proposal and emphasizes its community-building components. community in addition to basic student learning. results. She mentions that the Albion NAACP Branch, Albion District Library, Albion Big Read, and the College’s Center for Sustainability and Environment have all expressed interest in collaborating in the coming months.

“We do our part to establish partnerships between the school and the community. For example, I think it will be really interesting to do some local history,” says Wilch, citing Albion’s 19th-century identity as an industrial town. But it also describes the current connections that the grant will foster. “Marshall is just a bit downriver from Albion, and there needs to be more ways to build community between Albion and Marshall. We have a common history of being Kalamazoo River towns; we share that history.

In weekly lessons from January to May 2023, the foundational learning established in Harrington classrooms during the winter months will move outside in the spring. Along with regular trips down the Kalamazoo River via the College’s Whitehouse Nature Center next door, trips to a working watermill, a nearby fish hatchery, and Lake Michigan are scheduled.

“It’s an exciting opportunity. Albion students are fortunate to have a beautiful freshwater resource right outside their school door,” says Harrington co-director Karyn Hall. “With so much emphasis on reading and math in the mainstream curriculum, it’s important for our students to deliver strong science lessons. I hope this will spark an interest in learning about the environment we live in and create a love for nature and its preservation that students may not have had before.

Zooming out to groundwater, this spark of learning is indeed the overriding goal.

“Kids are always curious when you give them the opportunity to be,” says Lee-Cullin. “Hopefully we have a strong and fun curriculum that can be passed on and used by teachers across all MPSs. Preparing for a future that will almost certainly bring water crises is of the utmost importance. education of a subject is a key step in solving large-scale problems in society.

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