Troutville, Va.-based Roanoke Cement Co. (RCC) recently tapped into the local brain trust of water knowledge and ecology to teach Central Academy Middle Schools’ 130 sixth grade students what it takes to improve water quality and the environment at Catawba Creek.
During a two-day event, held at RCC’s mitigation site, the Titan America subsidiary assembled a team of environmental and aquatic teachers from the Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Farm Service Agency (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA), Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Tech and Apex.
“When we were creating this agenda, we all agreed that education is the best way to improve local water quality,” said Lindsey Layman, environmental analyst from RCC. “And we knew we had to start with younger students because the instruction resonates with them … it had to be hands on. We could not have offered this level of ecological education without the participation of each of these important local organizations.”
Students hiked into the creek area and were split into smaller groups to have better access and to be more easily rotated through each discipline. Subject areas included Aquatic Macro Invertebrate Sampling, Visual Stream Assessment and Testing, Tree Species Inventory and Soil Survey.
In the Macro Invertebrate Sampling lesson, the stream was sampled for pollution tolerant and pollution sensitive macro invertebrates or “critters.” Once sampled, all the critters were separated into categories such as mayflies, stoneflies, etc. and tallied. This resulted in an assessment score that indicated the health of the stream.
“We cannot recreate this type of learning inside the classroom,” said Mrs. Erica Furlong, a Central Academy Middle teacher who was on-site. “The students have enjoyed studying water in-person and through their own analysis have determined its good health.”
Mountain Castles SWCD has recently received a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund that will help fund middle school outings at RCC for this fall and next spring.
“Education is a big part of our mission at Mountain Castles SWCD as we strive to reduce nonpoint source pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and beyond,” said Tim Miller, education/outreach coordinator. “We want to create fun and engaging opportunities that help students feel connected to their local watersheds.”