by Jackie Lambert and Katie Wolpert
One of our mantras at Experience Learning is that, “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.” All sorts of activities feel like fun when we work together as a group to accomplish them and they make a difference in the world, or make us feel strong or competent or connected. An impromptu trash clean-up day on the Potomac in Franklin, WV demonstrated the truth of this sentiment.
The day started out innocently enough as a Local Stream Sampling. We took a group of 7th and 8th graders from Franklin Middle School to their local waterway — the South Branch of the Potomac — to conduct a water quality analysis. We help the students rate and classify the health of their waterway by chemical, biologic and physical assessments.
We noted a good bit of trash and debris washed in from floods all around as part of the physical assessment. Our program addresses this debris and how it can affect stream health but this October the Franklin Middle School students decided to do something about it. So, still wearing hip waders and arm-length gloves from the assessment work, they started by pulling a tire out of the stream. Before long all the students were hard at work pulling out trash and competing for the Weirdest Trash crown.
Two young men pulled tire after tire out of the river. Three students worked for 20 minutes to free a metal bed frame from a large rock it was wedged underneath. Entries for the Weirdest Crown also included a piece of trash dubbed the Electric Octopus, a long metal pole, and a popped balloon.
By the end of the program, the students cleaned up a 200 yard section of river. The South Branch is already looking better and the students got a chance to have real fun fulfilling their role as self-directed citizens and scientists.