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Great Teachers Explore the Great Lakes

The B-WET program provides critical support for formal and in-formal educators

by Christina Dierkes, Ohio Sea Grant

Students who live in Great Lakes states or near an ocean coast may know about the importance of those natural resources from school, but many have never had the chance to experience that particular ecosystem up close. To help them connect the theory of what they learn in class with hands-on experiences, NOAA’s Office of Education created the Bay Watershed Education & Training (B-WET) program in 2002.

B-WET is an environmental education program that promotes locally relevant learning through hands-on experiences for K-12 students. In the Great Lakes region, one B-WET project, led by Pennsylvania Sea Grant in cooperation with Ohio Sea Grant, combines a three-day teacher education workshop with year-long support and funding for at least one project, to be completed with students at the teachers’ home schools.

Marti Martz, Senior Coastal Outreach Specialist with Pennsylvania Sea Grant, believes this type of support for formal and in-formal educators is critical for everyone involved.

“This project allowed students to research an emerging Great Lakes issue and then share the problem and potential solutions with their peers, families and communities,” says Martz. “As they became more ‘scientifically literate’ they also learned that each of us has the power to make a difference.”

“So many times, you go to a workshop and get ideas, but you never get any follow-up from the program,” adds Lyndsey Manzo, Ohio Sea Grant Educator. “You want to take students to a water treatment plant, for example, but you don’t have any money to cover a substitute teacher or the bus. Here we were providing all of that, and one of our goals was to be able to really let teachers implement what they learned with their students.”

Ohio teachers Bonnie Sansenbaugher and Lisa Bircher from East Palestine High School near Youngstown have taken ideas from the summer workshop and run with them back in their classrooms, starting with the formation of a science club.

“We have some students that would not have been in any other clubs because they think that they’re not athletic, they don’t have a lot of money, but science interests them,” says Bircher. “Through the science club, we’ll take some of these kids on field trips, and it allows them to be a part of something. We have 22 strong members, who are learning a lot about the Great Lakes, wetlands, watersheds, everything that we’ve presented to them they’ve just absorbed.”

B-WET also requires teachers and their students to participate in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. “That experience was very powerful for them,” says Sansenbaugher. “We removed a lot of trash, 235.5 pounds of it, and that really emphasized that most of the stuff that’s in the ocean and the Great Lakes comes from land-based activities.”

Many of the service learning projects developed as part of the initial B-WET project will be expanded on this school year. Science club members at East Palestine have presented their ideas for an outdoor education area on school property, which would be accessible not only to the high school, but to middle and elementary school students as well. The plan was approved, and the students created a trail to the outdoor education area and placed wildlife houses for birds, bats and insects.

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