By. Chloe Sprecker, Sustainability and Stakeholder Relation Intern at Agrium
“What can you do to improve your watershed?” This is the question Agrium’s Caring for Our Watersheds program asks students from around the globe to consider.
To participate in Caring for Our Watersheds, students research their local watershed, identify an environmental concern, and come up with a realistic solution that can be implemented in their community. There are currently 12 contests worldwide, and each one is as unique as the local watershed that it represents.
Contest locations include:
- Canada – Central Alberta, Southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario
- USA – California, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, Washington DC
- Argentina – San Antonia de Areco area
- Australia – Victoria area
After students come up with a solution to improve their local watershed, they are responsible for submitting a written proposal on the topic. Community judges anonymously review the students’ proposals and select 10 top qualifiers based on: innovation, environmental impact, comprehensive scope, communication, budget, and visuals. The top 10 contenders then compete at a final competition by presenting their ideas to a panel of judges in front of a live, public audience.
Agrium provides a cash prize to the winning finalist and their school, but also provides additional funding to help implement any project that is considered realistic – even if the project did not make the top 10.
“The students have incredible ideas on how to improve our local environment and we are committed to helping them make their ideas happen,” explains Lindsey Verhaeghe, Corporate Responsibility Specialist at Agrium.
Benefits of the Program
In addition to positively impacting local watersheds, Caring for our Watersheds has tangible benefits for students and teachers alike. It is a free program and was written with teachers and industry experts to ensure it is factual, inquiry-based, and complementary to curriculum. The program is optimal for instructors who are looking to provide their students with a unique learning opportunity that offers benefits beyond the scope of the classroom.
Mark Carlen, Grade 8 Science Teacher at Kent Public School in Ontario, remarked:
“The project gave my curriculum a sharper focus, gave the students real world experience, and the cash rewards to the school are providing continued assistance to the students. This holistic approach to learning, or integrated learning, is extremely beneficial as it seamlessly draws the students into [a] higher level of thinking skills.”
Caring for our Watersheds is founded on project-based learning, meaning that it encourages students to become actively involved in the project to turn their theoretical ideas into realistic solutions. This hands-on learning method requires students to think global but act local, and develop skill sets both inside and outside of the classroom. Students build on their research, writing, and oral presentation skills, in addition to the practical skills they acquire, by implementing their solution within the community.
Examples of Student Action
Since the program’s inception in 2007, Caring for Our Watersheds has implemented over 200 environmental improvement projects, and had over 16,000 students participate. You can check out the implemented projects and current finalists on Caring for our Watersheds’ website. Here are several highlights from projects implemented in 2016:
Emily Casper from Berthoud High School won Colorado’s contest with her proposal to repair a section of the damaged riparian zone (river bank) along the Big Thompson River. A large flood in 2013 changed the course of the river, and consequently took out a multitude of trees, grasses, and shrubs along the riparian zone. Without the vegetation, an excess of sediment can run into the river and take a toll on the river’s biodiversity and overall health. Emily’s solution to this problem was to plant grass seeds along the riverbed. Her project was implemented when she, along with many volunteers, planted native grasses along a one mile stretch of the Big Thompson River.
Bat Boxes at Del Paso Park
Ryan Kizer had the idea of building and installing bat boxes in a local park in Sacramento, California. These boxes would provide habitat for bats to expand their population, and also help to create natural pest control, especially mosquitoes. With project funding from Agrium, Ryan constructed 4 bat boxes. He painted the boxes, put asphalt shingles on the roof areas, and mounted them on poles in 2 different areas of Del Paso Park. In the next few years, bats will move into the boxes’ safe environment and provide natural pest control to the area, as well as a cool show for visitors as they exit the box at dusk to feed.
Eco-Friendly Dry Erase Markers
Katelyn Lourenko from Garden City Collegiate in Winnipeg, Manitoba decided that eco-friendly dry erase markers were the best option to help improve her local watershed. “My school goes through approximately 1,570 markers within a ten month period. That’s 1,570 markers going in the trash each year,” says Katelyn. “Given that these markers are plastic, toxic, and non-recyclable I saw the need to make a change to prevent and lower the amount of chemicals making their way into my watershed.” Katelyn went on to discover that this is also a more cost-friendly option with potential savings of 55%. Thanks to Caring for Our Watersheds, she was able to purchase these markers for her school. Katelyn’s project was chosen to be implemented as Caring for Our Watersheds’ International Project for 2016, and over 1,000 markers will be given away across the globe.
The Ripple Effect
Beyond implementing their ideas around the world, students participants in Caring for Our Watersheds are daring their peers to do the same through the Ripple Effect Challenge. The Ripple Effect Challenge offers outside viewers an exclusive look into the implementation of student projects. Students tape their actions from start to finish and then challenge youth in other states and provinces to share their stories as well.
The newest video releases are found on Agrium’s Youtube page, AgriumInc, under the following titles:
The Role of Volunteers and Community Partners
The ability for students to improve their local watersheds would not be possible without the numerous local volunteers who offer their time to make a positive difference in their community. This volunteer base includes local conservation groups who are instrumental in connecting students with real life opportunities, and community watershed experts who often provide free presentations and mentorship to students. Altogether, this collaborative effort includes more than 160 community partners working together to implement student projects!
A Final Word
Gwen Roth from the Cincinnati, Ohio-based Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District and Program Coordinator for the Ohio contest, had this to say about the program:
“I absolutely love working with the Caring for Our Watersheds program. The best part of the program is that students actually receive the help, mentorship, and money to make their ideas a reality. It is wonderful to see their happiness and sense of satisfaction when they realize they accomplished something lasting and meaningful.”
Young minds often hold the key to amazing innovations that can assist us in protecting and improving our watersheds. Empowering students to make these solutions a reality will provide new solutions to old problems, and also solidify how future generations feel about their watersheds, their world, and their responsibilities within it.
These local efforts put forth by students are making a global impact, and the continuous support given by Agrium, local community partners, and volunteers have played a key role in the success of the Caring for Our Watersheds program.
About the Author
Chloe Sprecker is the Sustainability and Stakeholder Relation Intern at Agrium, and the newest addition to the Caring for Our Watersheds team. The team consists of 14 members, including Chloe, and program coordinators from each contest region. The program commenced in Alberta, Canada in 2007, but has since expanded to 12 contests over 3 continents – making Caring for Our Watersheds an international program. The coordinators are in charge of organizing and executing their own contests, in addition to assisting in the implementation process. Agrium is responsible for support, funding, and the business aspects of the Caring for Our Watersheds program. Together, the team works to educate students on the importance of environmental stewardship, and helps them make a global impact by improving watersheds around the world.