Thursday, August 13, 2020
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Poor students study environment on the river

A federally- and locally-funded program in Jacksonville, Florida, aims to give schoolchildren from low-income families a unique opportunity to learn about the ecosystem in the St Johns River, the Florida Times-Union reports.

St Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida (Jeff Slater / Flickr Creative Commons)

Duval County Public Schools partnered with an environmental advocacy group and CSX to give about 4,500 students from the district’s 69 poorest elementary schools a ride on a river taxi and an up-close look at life in the river. The St Johns River runs through the heart of Jacksonville, the 12th-largest city in the US on the 2010 Census.

“This opportunity is a once in a lifetime experience for our fifth graders to be able to get out on the river and experience firsthand the ecosystem and learn about our treasured resource,” the paper quoted Jeffrey Smith, the school district’s director of arts, as saying.

While they’re on the water, students will study the chemistry of water and count dolphins and manatees, according to the education director for the environmental advocacy group Riverkeeper. They’ll also be exposed to information about the watershed in which they live—let’s hope those lessons sink in. I hope the experience gives students a sense of the “downstream” effects of some human activities that may threaten ecosystems in the river and in the watershed.

In addition to educational services, Riverkeeper is contributing part of the local funding for the program. The remaining portion of $40,000 in local funds will come from CSX. An additional $30,000 for the program will come from the federal government, bringing the total cost for several hundred field trips this year to slightly more than $70,000, according to the article.

State Sen Audrey Gibson, who attended the program’s launch earlier this week, told the Times-Union that the river is important to life in Jacksonville. He said he hopes the knowledge gained from the field trips on the river will lead more area residents to stay in Jacksonville and appreciate how important the river is, not only to animals, but to children and their families.

In July, Voxitatis relayed a story from the Carroll County Times about a group of educators spending some time on the Chesapeake Bay to learn about the ecosystems in the estuary.

“I’m from Maryland,” the paper quoted Manchester Valley High School principal Ken Fischer, a former biology teacher, as saying. “I’ve been born and raised. I’ve been crabbing in the Inner Harbor and Ocean City, and I’ve done a lot on the water. But what it’s like to be a waterman is something that I did not understand at all until we went on the trip.”

“I think the thing that I found most interesting is the economy of the bay,” he added, saying that the health of the environment is tied to the economic prosperity of Maryland.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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