Fifth-graders get watershed moment, courtesy of Smith-Cotton seniors

November 9, 2012

Whitney White passed around a half-dozen 20-ounce soda bottles filled with murky water and asked, “Would you want to drink any of this?”

A couple of boys in Angela Logan’s fifth-grade science class raised their hands, but upon further review, thought better of the offer. A closer look showed the water in the bottles was mixed with oil, dirt, grass clippings, dead leaves and other contaminants.

“We see this in almost every watershed we clean up,” White told the class.

White and Sarah Wood, both seniors, were among a collection of Smith-Cotton High School students who came to Sedalia Middle School on Thursday to teach fifth-graders about watersheds — areas of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Logan asked the students to examine the contents of the bottles and consider, “How can you help the environment as a fifth-grade student?”

The class offered a collection of correct answers, including not littering, picking up trash and disposing of it properly and recycling. One student suggested burning leaves, but White pointed out that the smoke is hazardous to humans in large doses and to animals.

Wood and White then discussed the impact of storm water pollution and urban runoff, such as soapy water from washing a car going into a storm drain and then into the water supply. Wood feared running the classroom would be hectic, but she found the students to be informed and attentive.

“They were a lot better than the high school students,” she said, smiling.

Wood and White then led the class in an interactive game with the goal of keeping a watershed clean. One of the scenarios had two campers wondering what they should do with their trash. The options were burning it, burying it, collecting it and carrying it to a trash can or leaving it behind. The students made the correct choice — collecting the trash and dumping it properly later — and discussed the negative impacts of the other choices.

Logan said the sessions were “great” and the high school students were well-prepared.

“The class learned a lot today,” she said. “They got some very valuable information. ... It is important for our students to see high school students so involved in the environment.”

Other high school students who led the lesson in different classes were Megan Todd, Darion Mayes, Christine Shapley, Kalee Shepard, Monika Vaughn, Matalyn Boeschen, Madison Hendricks, Logan Holman, Alex Eppenauer, Shelby Osborn, Kylie Crank, Yazmin Sandoval and Samantha Hansen.

High school science teacher Mona McCormick said the watershed lesson was part of an overall project to restore the Pearl River.

“Teaching younger students about the importance of keeping watersheds clean not only improves their knowledge of how they are connected to streams and rivers, but also improves the knowledge of the students who had to research and prepare the lessons,” she said.

To close out Thursday’s lesson, Wood and White asked the class “How many football fields of aluminum foil is used each day to wrap Hershey’s Kisses?” Guesses ranged from 100 to more than 1 million.

The correct answer was 40, which covers the 80 million Kisses made each day. Each class member then received one of the chocolates — provided they promised to give back the foil and the paper tag so they could be recycled separately and properly.