Racine Students get Hands-On Experience with Root River through WATERShed Program

Water is the scoop in Racine. All 4th grade students in the Racine Unified School District (RUSD) take part in the WATERShed Program. The hands-on field trip at the The Root River Environmental Education Center is part of their water unit. Typically, textbooks focus on oceans. This program allows students a chance to experience a natural resource in their community.

Many students have never been to the Root River, which filters into Lake Michigan and provides the city of Racine’s drinking water. Students in the program learn how their choices impact the river.

“They get [to] experience how their neighborhood is connected to the Root River. They really find a personal connection when they leave,” said WATERSHed project manager, Nancy Carlson.

Carlson says students act as water scientists during the field trip, testing the water’s oxygen levels, temperature, pH and conducting turbidity tests.

“It’s cool,” said 4th grade student Olivia Pedrosa, “because you get to learn new things and try new things.”

Olivia’s classmate, Aaron Tremelling, says through the tests they discovered there is enough oxygen in the water. However, there is something he’d like people to change.

“There’s a lot of garbage in the river and people should stop throwing garbage in there.”

Students also explore how run-off pollution impacts rivers and lakes, specifically the wildlife in the water. They test pollution sources like road salt, pesticide, fertilizer, pet waste, motor oil and soap.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for the kids to do something outside, hands on. The testing they do [is] the same things scientists do, so it’s a great program,” said 4th grade teacher, Kenneth Hinkle. He’s been involved in the program since it started 9 years ago.

Nearly 1,500 4th grade students go through the program in the fall. Then, in May, 7th graders take part. They visit North Beach to see a filtration system. Organizers say the program is important because these students represent the future, and if they don’t care about natural resources, no one will.

WATERShed is a partnership between UW-Parkside, the city of Racine, RUSD and the Alliance for Great Lakes. There are also community donors who help with funding.

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