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LAKE HEALTH

OWLA: Teaching about water quality to Auburn classrooms

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Over the three day period of Dec. 7-9, volunteer members of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association visited Auburn Junior High School and taught a lesson on Owasco Lake and water quality to three seventh grade science classes.

The current topic in seventh grade science prior to our visit included ecosystems, and the flow of energy and matter in the environment. Our topic of Owasco Lake, the Owasco watershed and water quality fit nicely into this context. Three of us visited the classrooms of Sharon Camponelli, Angela DeBenedetto and Lisa Spencer.

We found the students engaging and impressive in their background scientific knowledge. It was such a pleasure to talk with approximately 300 young people about the lake we love.

This project began back in June with an invitation by the seventh grade science team to attend a curriculum planning day. As OWLA volunteers, we worked closely with a professional educator, Nadia Harvieux, education program manager at the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She was essential to developing a water quality presentation appropriate to a seventh grade science class.

Why an education project?

Why might we want to visit science classrooms and talk about water quality? OWLA has observed that many people don't understand the term "watershed," and that all human activities in the Owasco watershed ultimately impact the lake. In our region of plenty in terms of available fresh water, many of us take water for granted.

We discussed why our region is one of the best places in the world to live. We discussed the importance of water and the quality of water as essential to life, the area economy, agriculture and recreation. On a personal level, students shared some favorite things about Owasco Lake, such as boating, swimming, fishing and visiting the lake with family and friends.

We also discussed how "rain bombs," or slow-moving storms, stall in our watershed and produce erosion, sediment and nutrient runoff into the lake, and result in harmful algae blooms. Our goal is to help these students and ultimately our community to think about water and the ways we consume water. I felt that the students successfully responded to our challenge to list concrete steps they could take to protect water when they cited steps such as conserving water, keeping toxics out of drains and not using lawn fertilizer.

OWLA undertook this volunteer effort with the understanding that the next generation will likely determine the future of Owasco Lake. I was impressed with their enthusiasm in our discussion. If privacy concerns had allowed, I would have taken a photo of the excitement several students showed when they recognized a classmate in a March 2021 photo of a volunteer event where we planted 3,000 willows on the shore of the lake for erosion control. Perhaps getting young people working together to protect the lake is our best approach.

What's next?

All three OWLA volunteers have past teaching experience, and we uniformly enjoyed the students and our visit.

Our education partners at Auburn Junior High School considered our three-day visit a successful start, and hope to have us back for a future visit.

OWLA would like to find other schools in the Owasco watershed, including Southern Cayuga, Groton and Moravia, to host similar classroom visits. If you are interested, please contact us at owla.org/contact-us, or visit owla.org and hws.edu/fli for more information.

Kim Mills is a member of the board of directors of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association. For more information, or to join OWLA, visit owla.org.

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