November 11, 2008

Riverside Education

Missouri River Watershed Festival
October 3, 2008
La Benite Park, Sugar Creek, MO
text by Vicki Richmond; photos by Jill Hamilton-Anderson & Melanie Cheney

Slowly, the fog burned off of the levee, moving slowly through the parking lot and unveiling tents, tables and booths coming together to host nearly 300 Kansas City students on the banks of the Big Muddy at La Benite Park.

The Missouri River Watershed Festival is a 2 state, 7 county, metro KC regional event, featuring over 30 exhibitors conducting hands-on, interactive activities for area 5th graders with a focus on river stewardship and education. The festival is held in conjunction with a Missouri River Clean-up, giving an opportunity to follow up education with stewardship. Presentations were interactive, informative, educational and entertaining.

Students arrived and left their buses, armed with a festival passport, and toured learning stations enthusiastically learning about how their behavior in one part of the watershed can affect the entire region. Big river fish entranced students as their eager hands touched animals caught just that morning in the muddy water passing by La Benite Park. Muddy water was made drinkable right before their eyes. The Missouri River Relief Trashology exhibit showed students how trash travels down the river. Box City showed students how cities are developed and underscored the need for forward thinking city planning and infrastructure.

Excited chatter from the students showed that an impact had been made. “Did you see those fish? They were HUGE!” “If I built a city, I’d put bridges in first!” “I touched a snapping turtle. His shell was leathery.” “The girls beat the boys at the Recycle Relay!”

Lunch time arrived as students gathered on the levee for a meeting with Dr. H20. Students participated excitedly as science came alive with an entertaining twist. The session was recorded for broadcast on KCMO channel 2.

As students left the river, exhibitors enjoyed a valuable chance to network with friends and fellow educators. The exhibitors also found some time to travel to others’ exhibits, passing along their knowledge to colleagues.

Middle school students are a terrific group to work with. They have the stamina to pay close attention to the information provided by exhibitors, while employing that sense of wonder that energizes us all. Special thanks go to the teachers who take time out of a school day to bring students to the river. We believe that this type of learning allows students to become effective, critical thinking members of society who will pass these values on to their peers and families, establishing a sustainable environmental ethic and care for our natural resources.

Participating schools were Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School and Fire Prairie Middle School.

Additional thanks go to the City of Sugar Creek, who allowed us access to the Missouri River at beautiful La Benite Park, to Courtney Ridge who provided hand-wash stations and portable toilets, to the Sugar Creek Fire Department who provided our exhibits with water and to the land managers, biologists, not for profit experts, college students and community leaders who donated their time and talent to bring River education to the students.

None of this would be possible with out the leadership and guidance of the Missouri River Watershed Festival Committee chairs- Kimberlee Foster, Cheri Miller, Larry O’Donnell, Vicki Richmond, Colleen Doctorian, Wendy Sangster and Steve Van Rhein. These individuals design passports and maps, recruit exhibitors and teachers and set up the event. Their hard work behind the scenes is visible to all after a successful day, and Missouri River Relief is proud to be a part of this inspiring annual collaboration.

Students from Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School came to the Watershed Festival on Friday, and came as a group to clean-up the banks of the river and the La Benite Park area on Saturday during the Missouri River Clean-up. photo by Melanie Cheney

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