Bordentown Regional Middle School teams up with DEP program to encourage education on water resources

Samantha Pfeffer, an Americorp NJ Watershed Ambassador, conducted hands-on learning tools at Bordentown Regional Middle School on Oct. 16 for the sixth graders on the topic of clean water. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann
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Samantha Pfeffer, an Americorp NJ Watershed Ambassador, conducted hands-on learning tools at Bordentown Regional Middle School on Oct. 16 for the sixth graders on the topic of clean water. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann

Bordentown Regional Middle School has teamed up with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with an aim to enhance students’ understanding of their impact on the community.

In a collaborative effort with the AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassadors Program administered by the DEP, sixth grade students at Bordentown Regional Middle School took part in interactive lessons this month with an intent to study and observe how their actions affect local water resources.

The goals of the program are to promote watershed preservation through education and direct community involvement, and to monitor stream health through performing visual and biological assessments.

The initiative for the local middle school came when Bordentown school district member Kate Reilly said there was an opportunity for the district to receive a “River Friendly School Certification.” Reilly explained that a certification for this program is chosen from a board that looks at the criteria of businesses, individuals and schools promoting clean water and healthy environments.

Certification is offered at several different levels based on points achieved through lessons and hands-on projects in four categories: water quality, water conservation, wildlife habitat and education, and outreach.

Given Bordentown’s proximity to the Delaware River as a riverfront community, Reilly said she saw this program as an opportunistic chance to not only apply for this special certification, but to encourage proactive education on local water resources as well for students and staff.

“What [the board] is interested in is how volunteers, students and teachers interface in how to promote a healthy environment and water whether it’s reducing pollution, discuss changing habitats, talk about water quality and conservation,” Reilly said. “We felt it was really important because we wanted our students to understand their place in a river community. The foundation of this [partnership] was because we are right on the Delaware River.”

In teaming up with the AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassadors Program to enact education and discussion about local water resources, Reilly said she then reached out to Bordentown Regional Middle School sixth grade science teachers, Cristy Ortu and Lisa Hudik, to open their classrooms up to the watershed ambassadors program to work with students.

Ortu said that the collaboration with the DEP organization was well-suited for the implementation of additional education on local resources in the middle school classrooms. For Ortu, she noted that education on these topics at younger grades could potentially encourage students to take additional approaches toward water and environmental conservation in the future.

“We have woven more water-focused lessons into our normal curriculum to keep it as a theme here,” Ortu said. “It’s about making [the students] aware as they become the voice of future generations – making them aware at such a young age and to start thinking about a career in environmental science or environmental engineering with all the problems we are facing today with climate change. We are getting them invested in it, understanding it’s important and educating them at a young age.”

On Oct. 16 and 17, Samantha Pfeffer, an Americorp NJ Watershed Ambassador, conducted water and stream assessments with the sixth graders as well as hands-on learning experiments for students on the topic of clean water. Pfeffer used educational tools such as a diagram model of a local watershed community to showcase how people’s daily actions affect natural resources as well as paid a visit to Bordentown Beach to directly study a local water body and its habitat.

“The project started because it’s in the sixth grade curriculum to talk about the environment,” Reilly explained. “We began talking last year about how to bring our community into the curriculum. It shouldn’t just be the curriculum sitting outside of what students experience in their lives. There has to be direct connections.

“The whole intent was to make sure that there is also a firm understanding as to how we can protect our resources because they should be cherished in Bordentown. We are lucky to have that all,” Reilly added.

With the initiation of the program, Bordentown Regional Middle School Principal Joseph Sprague said that he anticipated the educational opportunity to serve as a way for students to better understand their place and significance toward natural resources in the community.

“It’s about getting students to think critically about the world they live in where everything is so accessible to them through their phones and devices,” Sprague said. “It’s to get them to problem-solve and think for themselves or work it out on their own and look at things from a different angle.

“I’ve been here in Bordentown for 20 years now, and we have such a tremendous resource [in the Delaware River] right there for us as community, and a lot of people don’t know about it. It’s another thing I’m thankful for, which is that a lot of our students will get the opportunity to see that when they normally may not have,” Sprague said.

For more information on the national AmeriCorps program, visit their website at www.americorps.gov or www.nj.gov/dep/wms/bears/americorps.html.