Eastern Ohio school districts and teachers are partnering with the University of Cincinnati (UC) Center for Environmental Genetics (CEG) Community Engagement Core (CEC) to bring environmental science into the classroom and out to the field. The CEC provides kits that teach students how to collect, sample, and analyze local water. The project rose out of community concerns about how the region’s natural gas extraction industry might be affecting water quality.
"I hope the students become 'citizen scientists.' I hope they learn the importance of water quality and become more vested in their community. And I hope it instills in them a desire to protect their natural resources," said Erin Haynes, Dr.P.H. in an Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) Journal article. Haynes oversees the project and directs the CEC.
So far, the CEC has provided 120 water testing kits for these student scientists to analyze regional lakes, streams, wells, and tap water. Currently, 30 educators overseeing more than 2,230 students in grades five through twelve are using the kits. Representatives from the Guernsey County Soil and Water Conservation District, Guernsey County 4-H, Guernsey County Emergency Management Agency, and the Deerassic Park Education Center also have received kits for their student programs.
The students are providing valuable information to their peers, community members, and researchers. They record the latitude and longitude of their samples and then test those samples for temperature, acidity level, and total dissolved solids. Afterwards, they use Google Fusion to map their data to specific locations. If any samples suggest concern for possible contaminants, educators are asked to report to the CEC.
"Once we get more teachers doing this and more students out sampling water, they’re going to be able to look on the map and see where water testing is going on in their community and take ownership of the project," said Rachael Shepler, CEC program coordinator, in the OSBA article. "We want students to get excited about the great work they’re doing and learn that they can be part of something really important."
The CEC received the 2017 Business Honor Roll Award from the OSBA. Strong community partnerships, including a collaboration with local resident and retired school teacher Rusty Roberts, were instrumental to the success of the project.