A chill was still in the air and the grass wet with heavy dew in Elkin Municipal Park Thursday morning, as eighth-graders from Elkin Middle School gathered to learn about water and the environment as part of Creek Week events.
About 100 students from the school made the walk across Big Elkin Creek to the town park where several stations were set up, including a hands-on stream restoration project near the foot bridge that crosses from near the school over to the park.
English teacher Amanda Burton said this is the second year the school has partnered with Watershed NOW, a local conservation group, to bring their classroom curriculum to life. But due to rainy weather last year, this is the first year the eighth-graders were able to take part in the activities right on the banks of the creek.
“We started Monday with a visit from Julian Charles who talked to the eighth-graders and gave them photography tips,” Burton said.
On Tuesday, the students got an opportunity to walk to the creek where it flows near the campus and take pictures using the skills Charles taught them. In addition, Charles returned to the school Tuesday to share nature-related songs with the middle school chorus.
Then Wednesday, they sketched out their pictures on paper and did a water color art project with them, Burton explained.
In addition to rotating through various water-related stations at the park Thursday morning, the students were scheduled to return to classes in the afternoon and use what they learned and experienced in their part as well as their photographs to write poetry.
“Tomorrow, in the high school media center, they will share their pictures, watercolors and poetry in an end-of-week celebration,” said Burton. “The music teacher, Mrs. [Tonya] Smith is having some of the kids write songs and they will perform them, and Mr. [Stuart] Taylor is going to share the Watershed NOW video with them.”
Stream restoration a focus
While some of the stations offered had the students pretending to be young fish trying to migrate without being eaten or dying and getting an up-close look at aquatic insects and fish and their life cycle, a key station for the Watershed NOW organization was allowing the students to help with a stream restoration project near the soccer and ball fields in Elkin Municipal Park.
Joe Mickey of Watershed NOW and an active member of the Elkin Valley Trails Association led the restoration project, explaining to the eighth-graders the condition it was in prior to the restoration, how it got that way and what the students would be doing to help repair it.
One of the previous stations they had visited was one teaching about vegetation buffers along waterways. “We are repairing the vegetation with a brush buffer,” Mickey told the students.
Bundles of silky dogwood and silky willow were leaned along the bank waiting on the students to spread out and anchor. “These type of plants have evolved so if you cut them and keep them wet, they will root and grow,” Mickey explained.
“This was a vertical eroding bank, so we used a small excavator or trackhoe to slant the banks back because nothing will grow on a vertical bank,” he said. “We want to try to stop this creek from eroding toward the ball field.”
Also, the vegetation provides shade for the creek and its inhabitants and helps keep pollution out of the water if herbicides or pesticides are used on the ball fields, said Mickey. The leaf litter and sticks are a good place for the aquatic insects to live, and the plants provide nutrients needed for the insects as well.
Farther down the stream, the students also helped plant live stakes of silky willow and elderberry along the bank.
“The ones that will survive should have leaves in a month,” Mickey said of how quickly the rooting process occurs.
Schools, community partner for Creek Week
Keeping a watchful eye out and enjoying the weather with the students, EMS Principal Casey Morrison was impressed with her first Creek Week experience Thursday.
“Being new, Watershed NOW and Stuart Taylor and our English teacher Amanda Burton worked this out from the start of the school year,” Morrison explained, with Watershed NOW coordinating the assistance of state organizations to help lead stations on insects, fish habits and more.
“We [painted] storm drains in the fall at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital,” she said.
The water-related studies are part of Susan Bennett’s science curriculum, with students learning about water restoration, the importance of water conservation and pollution and how it affects water.
“It is good for them to learn, and this is application of what they’ve learned. A lot of times they learn in the classroom for a test, but they don’t apply it to life,” Morrison said. “This [day] is what Mrs. Bennett teaches in the classroom and how to apply it.
“They are having a beautiful day outside, and Watershed NOW is a great partnership to get it done because we wouldn’t have the resources to set it up with the contacts they have,” she said.
In addition to Creek Week activities, Bennett raises trout in her classroom throughout the school year and then, while some of the eighth-graders get to travel to the Outer Banks on a field trip, those students who stay behind will get the opportunity to release the trout at Stone Mountain State Park the first week of April.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.