Rivers Curriculum Project

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Conservation Area. Lake 9, a small fishing pond, is right outside the front door. The community has been supportive in planning and building an outdoor classroom. Businesses have donated trees and lumber for benches and bridges. Just a short walk from the classroom, students can sit in the woods or on a patch of Conservation Department prairie.

"We go to school so that we can provide service to somebody some day," said Boehm in the class discussion. In this class, students are already involved in providing service. They visit elementary schools on Earth Day to talk about recycling. They sell T-shirts and collect aluminum to fund the outdoor classroom.

Through a project called Rivers Curriculum, coordinated by Southern Illinois University, the students are gathering data from the Missouri River that will be used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and many other agencies, schools and private companies.

The Rivers Curriculum Project was begun by Dr. Robert Williams at S.I.U. to train high school students to gather data that could be used by professionals. By using students to collect water on specific days of the year, Williams reasoned, researchers could gain a picture of the entire river. They could look for differences in water as it traveled between, say, Little Falls, Neb. and Cairo, Ill. They could see "hot spots" of excessive pollution and examine the impact of rural and urban water use.

Today, the project involves 330 schools in 36 states. Schools as far away as Massachusetts are testing their local waterways and reporting the results by modem to the central office at S.I.U. According to Cindy Bidlack, project coordinator, the E.P.A. has used project results in its reports to Congress and has investigated pollution revealed by student work. When rechecking results, the professionals have been pleased with the accuracy of data turned in by students.

A component of the project - the zebra mussel case study - has been useful to both government and private industry. Zebra mussels, native to the Black Sea, first came into the Great Lakes in ballast water carried by ships. They were first identified in 1989, and have rapidly spread to the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, where they are taking over the food supply, smothering native mussels and clogging industrial water intake valves.

The Rivers Curriculum Project does not stop with the science class. While science literacy is the

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