August 11, 2019

Ebb & Flow: 2019 Education Assistant Reflection & Words for the Next

By Katie Hathaway

Hello all!

This summer has really been one for the books. As hard as it is to believe, my time with Missouri River Relief is coming to an end, so I'm writing one last blog post reflecting on my time as the Education Assistant.

On my first day of work this past spring, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect walking into the Missouri River Relief office. I had known of River Relief for some time, and been around the organization before- attending various fundraising events and briefly chatting at random tabling events- but I never leaned in enough to know just how amazing this organization actually is.

That first day, I remember feeling nervous, but very eager to jump into my role as the education assistant. At the time, I was just finishing up the last month of my senior year at Mizzou, getting ready to graduate, and gearing up for a summer on the river with Missouri River Relief- I had no idea that Mother Nature had different plans for the river.

A very beautiful, but very flooded Missouri River photographed during Missouri River Academy
My internship coincided with the 2019 flood, meaning throughout the summer, nearly every event and program planned had to be rescheduled for the fall. Miraculously, (or not so miraculously, because I was working with Kristen, Steve, Kevin, and Melanie) we still ran multiple successful programs, including a summer camp about the Missouri River, without actually ever getting on the river.

Every day the Booneville and Jefferson City flood gauge were checked and discussed, in hopes that the river had crested, and that the water level would drop before X, Y, and Z events. Things didn't necessarily go according to plan, and this summer involved a lot more days in the office than we all expected, but I had the chance to really immerse myself in so many projects, developing educational resources!

When the river finally went down enough in late July, the staff was kind enough to take the NGRREC intern, Carly, and I out on the river for a sunset cruise, and it was more than worth the wait! I can't thank them enough for giving us that experience.

River sunsets are hands-down the best sunsets.
We may have not have been able to get out on the river more than once, but I seriously can't imagine this internship being any better. I have so much love for Missouri River Relief. There’s not really a way to convey just how meaningful this experience has been, but I will try my best!

Being the Education Assistant has been transformative for me in a number of ways, and I learned a lot this summer, but here are some of the biggest take-aways:

I learned to let go and embrace being in the moment 

I am someone who will read and reread every lesson leading up to a program so I can nail every point perfectly. While that can be helpful to a certain degree, you have to be prepared to lose the script sometimes. Over the summer, I was able to get much more comfortable in doing so by really immersing myself in the lessons and doing my own learning about relevant topics on the side. There are so many resources at Missouri River Relief to help you learn and better prepare you to teach!

I saw first-hand what a community-based organization looks like

This organization really lends their time, energy, and resources to the community in so many ways outside of just scheduled events and programs. During the height of the flooding this summer, the staff were constantly out helping with flood relief wherever needed.

They've also built their own community, the Missouri River Relief Crew. Coming from all walks of life, every member of the crew is so authentically themselves, and so dedicated to helping carry out Missouri River Relief's mission of connecting people to the Missouri River. Any time we needed extra hands to get through a project, River Relief could send out an email asking for help, and undoubtedly, crew members would be there to help in whatever way they could. I feel so lucky to have been welcomed into this community. It really has been so special to be apart of. They may work on a local scale, but Missouri River Relief's impact goes beyond the city of Columbia.

My favorite crew member, Tallia, during our staff sunset cruise!
Over and over this summer, I learned how important it is to be able to adapt when doing place-based education

I learned it will probably rain the one day of the week you have planned to take kids out for a hike and teach them about the Missouri River, but you just bring a rainjacket and find dry spaces along the way to give lessons! 

Kristen has said Missouri River Relief is usually on "Plan E" because Plan A, B, C, and D didn't work out, and that may have especially been true this summer because of all the flooding, but that never lessened the amount of work, thought, or energy that went into every program. I was amazed to see how much effort went into developing back-up plans, and how well MRR programs were able to adapt to whatever Mother Nature threw at them.

To escape the rain, we found a pavilion to watercolor underneath during a day with Missouri Young Birders Club!

Running a non-profit is a lot of work

The 4 full-time staff – Kristen, Kevin, Steve, and Melanie- along with the bookkeeper Katy- work extremely hard. They are more dedicated to the work they do than I think it’s possible to express in this blog post, but each of them is truly inspiring. They give so much of themselves to their work, and I’m so grateful I’ve gotten the chance to work alongside some of the most knowledgeable stewards of the Missouri River this summer.

I realized just how much I love working with kids

During my first few weeks, River Relief’s afterschool program for 4th graders, Missouri River All Stars, was wrapping up. I had the opportunity to observe one of the last lessons, and I was blown away by how knowledgeable and engaged the kids were. At one point they were suggesting their own solutions for how to manage the endangered Pallid Sturgeon in the Missouri River! I was so in awe of the kids, and that feeling of amazement never changed throughout all the student programs I had the chance to be a part of.

Words will not be able to do Missouri River Academy justice. I loved being apart of this camp. The kids that attended were all so special and blew my mind in every single way. They were goofy and curious, and the 5 days of Academy were so meaningful to them. I loved watching each of them get absorbed in all the activities we did, try new things (like electrofishing!), and build friendships with each other. By the end of camp, all the kids were talking about how excited they were to come back next year, and I found myself starting to strategize ways I could disguise myself as a camper next summer so I don't miss out on the magic of Missouri River Academy.
I loved getting to know all 21 of these campers. I can't wait to see what their future holds!
Knowing you have a hand in helping shape the next generation is really indescribable. Implementing education programs is very tiring work, but it's next to impossible to not pour your heart into every program when you see the impact they have on kids.

Kristen is an unbelievable mentor 

She’s inspiring, hilarious in a way that makes you question how someone can just be that funny on the spot, VERY dedicated to her work, determined, and I hope she knows I’ll always look up to her. My growth as an environmental educator is very much because of her, and I will never be able to thank her enough for this opportunity.

Kristen giving her "I notice, I wonder" lesson! I loved observing this lesson- I hope I can implement it for myself in the future! 

To the Next Education Assistant- 

Welcome to one of the greatest organizations there is! Prepare for an experience unlike any other- you will laugh a lot, and make some of the best memories, but you will also work extremely hard during your time as the education assistant. Here are some things I learned along the way that might be helpful for you to know as you step into this role:
  • Throughout your internship, really take in the way presenters and staff give lessons and communicate information- note things you want to incorporate into your own teaching style. Half the time I would just think to myself, “Oh I liked that. I want to remember that for the future”, but it’s so much more beneficial to actually have ideas written down.
  • During education programs, it can be intimidating to follow Kristen after she gives a phenomenal lesson, but that’s okay- dive into it anyway, it's the only way to improve yourself!  
  • After every lesson you give, make note of what you want to improve on and what you want to continue with in the future. Ask for feedback from Kristen as well. 
  • You will meet so many people who will share their livelihoods as presenters, and while they’re really there to teach the students, lean in and pay attention to their presentations as well. There is SO MUCH to learn. When else are you going to have the opportunity to learn about migratory birds, electrofishing or nature journaling? 
  • This is maybe the most important piece of advice I will give- get every recipe you can from Kristen because she is an amazing cook. Thank me later for this.
  • When you’re not out helping run programs, you will be primarily at the office, and that can take some adjusting to if you haven’t had an office job before, like me. Something that was really helpful for me was to think back to the advice of the interns before myself and remember that the days of this internship are numbered. You’re only going to get this experience once- so go all in. Do everything you can to make the most of your time at Missouri River Relief.

Missouri River Relief was my first taste of “the real world” after graduating college, and wow, did I luck out. I'm not entirely sure where life will take me next, but Missouri River Relief undoubtedly helped me get there.

July 31, 2019

A Brief Snapshot of My Summer as a National Great River Research & Education Center Intern with Missouri River Relief

By Carly Hopkins

Sunglasses on and covered in unidentifiable bug bites after attending National Great River Research & Education Center (NGRREC) training week, I drove down I-70 to my research placement city: Columbia MO.  Admittingly, I was a little nervous.  I attend school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and had never visited Columbia before.  Looking back, it was such a waste of nerves – Columbia turned out to be amazing!  The downtown area radiates life, and there never seems to be a shortage of things to do.  However, the crown jewel of the town is undoubtedly Missouri River Relief.

Unlike my nerves about Columbia, I was just mostly excited to start work with Missouri River Relief.  Once I got my placement email from NGRREC, I immediately researched all about the program.  From their website and news clippings, it seemed like Missouri River Relief was run by passionate people that wanted to make heartfelt changes in their community.  That ended up being entirely true, but what I didn’t know was exactly how much heart, sweat, and blood goes into making their mission happen.

Headquartered in a cozy office, you couldn’t find a place filled with better people.  I could write paragraphs about each of the people I worked with – along with Indigo and Baby, the two office dogs - but for the sake of (relative) brevity, I won’t.  I would be remised; however, if I did not mention my supervisor, the education director of Missouri River Relief, Kristen Schulte.

With her unmatched wit and sharp mind, you honestly couldn’t ask for a better supervisor.  On the first day of meeting each other, we sat down and discussed what I would be doing that summer.  I would be mainly focusing on one event that Missouri River Relief puts on called Missouri River Days.  Missouri River Days is a half-day field trip on the Missouri River that takes the entire 4th grade on the Missouri River in Columbia, Missouri.  My primary mission over the summer was to write pre and post curriculum for teacher’s use. This would also be the area where I would develop a research project.

No big deal.  I had written some educational material before and thought I knew generally how it was going to go. Research, write, go through 2-3 drafts, and call it done.  I even thought I could complete the project way ahead of schedule.

Boy was I wrong.

Learning how children best learn and writing lesson plans around a certain layout was all new to me.  In the past, I had written things more to just have concepts flow from one another and kind of wrote a lesson plan based on that format.  Kristen soon taught me the importance of having set understandings, knowledge, and skills you want students to walk away with along with specific exercises for them to use while learning.  The hardest part of it all was letting go of my previous conceptions about curriculum and diving headfirst into relearning about proper development.

Observing lessons being pilots by Russell Blvd Elementary Teacher
We then piloted these lessons with some local grade school teachers during their summer school sessions.  This may have been one of my favorite parts of the whole internship - there’s something amazing about seeing your work unfold. The feeling of hearing the teachers read the words that went through countless revisions, and the kids absorbing it, falls nothing short of complete elatement.

The teachers gave us their feedback through surveys, and we tweaked lessons accordingly.  Their comments also helped establish my research project that looked at ways to interweave formal education into and informal learning experience.  But the most impactful part of it all is that we actually get to compile all the lesson plans and supporting material to be distributed in the local grade schools.  As I type this, piles of binders, laminating paper, and plastic envelopes sit beside me ready to assemble once the lessons are done being printed.

Leading the introduction to the Missouri River Creative Art Project 
Although my main project was the curriculum development for Missouri River Days, I also helped write short lesson plans for a creative art project for Missouri River Academy.  Missouri River Academy is an overnight camp that connects 8th-12th graders to the Missouri River.  I was a little hesitant about the camp – I had never been in charge of leading high schoolers before and was worried they would be difficult to handle.  Instead, I was met by an incredibly smart and eager to learn group of kids.  Even though we weren’t able to go on the river (due to flood stage), it was still a fantastic experience.  Watching so many kids having fun while actively learning about the environment was heartwarming.  I was even blown away by what they ended up creating in the creative art project! I learned that kids – whether they be the 4th graders in Missouri River Days or high schoolers at Academy – will never stop surprising you.

Guiding students on their Missouri River Creative Art Project
It was also just fun being back at a camp again – it was very nostalgic of my other camp experiences and made me remember what kind of experiences made me first fall in love with the environment.
That pretty much summarizes it all.  I wish I could tell you about every single event that happened during my internship, but there simply isn’t time.  It’s your turn to make your own Missouri River Relief stories.  But there is some advice that I can share with you that I learned from my internship experience.

 Some snippets of advice for future NGRREC interns

  1. Be open to learning new things – even if you think that you already know it.  Believe me; you don’t know it as well as you think you do.
  2. Organize your file folders first thing.  The number of documents you will save and download will surprise you.
  3. Although sometimes an 8-hour workday may seem endlessly long, just remember that the summer is unfairly short (I can’t believe my internship here is already ending). When that mindset doesn’t do the trick, music and a snack can help.
  4. Have some more confidence in your work.  Everyone is incredibly busy and if you can solve smaller problems on your own it will make everything run much smoother.
  5. Pick your research project and outline exactly what you are going to do early.  I had never done a social science project before, which proved to be more difficult that I originally anticipated. 
  6. Explore Columbia and everything it has to offer (if you’re an ice cream fanatic like me, go try Sparky’s)

But most importantly remember how lucky you are.  Not only to be an intern for NGRREC but that you got the opportunity to work with Missouri River Relief.  I am incredibly biased in saying this, but it’s the best placement of all the projects you could have gotten.

Presenting my Research Project at the National Great River's Research & Education Center Symposium 

July 17, 2019

Missouri River Academy, July 7-11, 2019

By: Katie Hathaway

It’s hard to believe another Missouri River Academy has come to an end. Every year is unique and incredibly special, but this year was really one for the books. The lessons learned and friendships made will not be soon forgotten.

Campers and a few staff members pose outside of Peers Store during their bike ride on the Katy Trail!
During this year’s Missouri River Academy, high school students from across the state gathered for 5 days in New Haven, Missouri, to learn about the Missouri River, all while not actually being able to go on the Missouri River, due to this year’s flooding and high water level. Despite not being able to get out on the river, this year’s academy was just as magical to be a part of.

To give you a better idea of how the week flowed, here is a day-by-day breakdown!

Sunday, July 7th – Welcome to Missouri River Academy

Twenty-one eager campers arrived at Camp Trinity and were welcomed to the 2019 Missouri River Academy! The first day of camp was focused on getting to know one another and gearing up for the next four days of learning about the Missouri River!

Campers prepare for the first round of Missouri River Olympics!
An Academy staple, Missouri River Olympics, kicked off and four fierce Olympic Teams were formed! Children of Lupa, Below Sea Level, Better than Kampbell, and GELEC competed in a series of games and activities throughout the week for a chance to win a special prize.

The day finished with a night scavenger hunt hike, where students got to know each other better and learn about the stars.

The campers embark on their night hike!

Monday, July 8th – Connecting to the Missouri River

With the question “How do I explore my connection to the Missouri River?” in mind, the second day of Academy included getting to know the history behind the Big Muddy, and learning about how it functions.

The day started at Pinckney’s Bed & Breakfast on a beautiful overlook above the Missouri River, where we learned about the history of the Missouri River, and some of the extinct wildlife that once roamed the watershed by examining fossilized teeth!

Campers Mackenzie and Emma practice using hand lenses to refine their observational skills.
We then headed to the riverfront in downtown New Haven and learned about sedimentation of the Missouri River. While along the waterfront, we broke out the blue trash bags and did a river clean up, Missouri River Relief style! Students picked up trash and also looked for their own trash treasure, which they could use for their creative art project later in the week.

Charlie and Gabe disposing of some trash during the river clean up.
In the afternoon, students participated in an 8-mile bike ride along the Katy Trail, stopping along the way at Peers Store to learn about the history of the area. After a day being out in the sun, the pool at Camp Trinity was a favorite hangout spot for most students during community time.

Later in the day we explored a nearby stream and met wildlife along the way. Many toads, grasshoppers, and other insects were caught!

Campers check out some captured wildlife during the stream exploration activity!
During Missouri River Olympics the competition was fierce, but Below Sea Level took the lead after winning a couple rounds of a tag game called Keeper of the Castle!

The night capped off with stargazing, during an astronomy and night sky lesson, where students learned more about what’s beyond Earth. They even saw the rings of Saturn!

Tuesday, July 9th – Behind the Scenes of the Missouri River

During the third day of academy, we explored the ecology of the Missouri River. Students focused on the question, “What components make up the Missouri River ecosystem?”

We started the day off at Shaw Nature Reserve for some serious birding with Missouri River Bird Observatory! We saw and heard 17 different bird species, including an Indigo Bunting, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Herron!

Campers look for birds using binoculars and bird identification books. 
The fun continued as we did some nature journaling with artist and outdoor educator, Angie Jungbluth. To prepare us for capturing the natural world on paper, Angie challenged us all to rethink how we draw with various sketching techniques, such as blind sketching and gesture drawings. We even learned how to draw a bird song! She also led a watercolor lesson, where students painted the forest at Shaw Nature Reserve.

Angie reviewing what birds campers had just listened to during the "draw a bird song" activity.
River Academy wouldn’t be complete without a little time on the water! We headed to the Meramec River where we participated in some fisheries activities with Sarah Pepers and her staff from Missouri Department of Conservation. We caught fish using nets and through electrofishing! The Missouri Department of Conservation folks were kind enough to educate us on what fish species we caught as well. We caught a wide variety of fish, two of which were the Stoneroller and Brook Silverside!

Campers trying out electrofishing on the Meramec River!
After spending some time out on the river, we came back to Camp Trinity where Darby Niswonger and a couple other wonderful folks from MDC had a fish fillet demonstration waiting for us! Many students got to test their hand at preparing catfish to be fried, while others had the opportunity to enjoy fishing!

Campers fishing around the lake at Camp Trinity.
Missouri River Olympics were tough! All teams played their hearts out in a game of Capture the Flag, but after solving a tough riddle, BTK took the lead.

Day three of Missouri River Academy ended on the best note possible- with an ice cream social at New Haven Ice Cream Shoppe!

Wednesday, July 10th – Forces that Shape the Missouri River

From learning about wastewater treatment along the river, to hearing stories from those who have paddled the river, to discovering how life has developed in a historic river town, we dove into a number of activities to get the kids thinking about the question, “What is the relationship between humans and the Missouri River?”

We kicked off the day touring the wastewater plant in New Haven and got the chance to learn about the importance of treating water, as well as the challenges that go with it. We learned about the hardships various flushed products have on the wastewater treatment process!

Lance presenting a glass-blown sea turtle to the campers!
We then visited Astral Glass Studio in downtown New Haven, where Lance Stroheke and Gary Rice demonstrated glass blowing for us! They created a bluebird and a sea turtle right before our eyes! Afterward, they talked to us about their experience paddling 1,300 miles on the Missouri River! The kids also really enjoyed hanging with their shop dogs.

While downtown, we stopped by Avant Garden, and Charissa Coyle talked to us about the importance of supporting local agriculture, as well as how this year’s flooding and heavy rain has impacted growing produce in the Missouri River Valley. Using ingredients from Avant Gardens, we made fresh salsa together and celebrated with tacos for lunch!

Jay and Bridget cutting up peppers fresh salsa.
After lunch, we headed to Deutschheim State Historic Site in Hermann and traveled back in time to explore Hermann’s German roots while touring historic family homes.

After a day of activities, we headed back to Camp Trinity, where students were introduced to the Creative Art Project. Campers partnered up, chose an issue relating to the Missouri River, and began thinking about how to develop their projects!

The Olympic Games were intense, but after winning the “Face the Cookie” challenge, and solving the most riddles, Below Sea Level took first place again!

The Olympic teams attempting to solve riddles.
We finished out the evening making s’mores around a campfire together. The best way to end a day at camp!

Thursday, July 11th – Connecting Others to the Missouri River

The last day of Missouri River Academy was spent reflecting on the past week and thinking about how to take what was learned beyond New Haven, Missouri. Students focused on the question “How do we deepen a sense of responsibility to the care of the Missouri River?”

We kicked off the day with the final round of Missouri River Olympics. The kids participated in a relay race! It was neck and neck, but after a tie-breaker ring toss between Below Sea Level and GELEC, Below Sea Level took the prize this year! Each member of the team received handmade petrified wood necklaces, crafted by Gale Johnson!

Below Sea Level with their new petrified wood necklaces!
After saying goodbye to Camp Trinity, we all headed to the New Haven Old School House and the kids constructed their Missouri River Creative Art Projects! Trash sculptures, paintings, poems, and bumper stickers were created to raise awareness about specific issues related to the Missouri River!

Elsie cleaning up some trash to use for her recycled trash sculpture!
Before student presentations began and parents and guardians arrived, we all participated in an appreciation activity where we were able to express gratitude to one another. During “Pass the Feather”, we all reflected on our highlights of the week. What was mentioned most was how special it was that we were all able to connect so quickly with one another.

During student presentations, campers were able to show off their creative art projects to friends and family. It was amazing to see the kids talk so passionately about the issues they researched and to call their audience to action!

Bridget presenting her Creative Art Project on Japanese Hops to another camper's family.
The day ended with a bittersweet closing ceremony. Every camper received a certificate for completing Academy, and many heartfelt goodbyes were said to both new and old friends.

To see more photos from 2019 Missouri River Academy, check out our Facebook and Flickr!

Last, but certainly not least, thank you to the following individuals and organizations who made this year's River Academy possible. We are so grateful for the support you have given Missouri River Academy and this year's campers!

·  Katy Land Trust & Peers Store, Dan Burkhardt
·  Scott Mansker, River Miles
·  Diana Papoulias, Board Member
·  Dave and Fran Stous (Former Board and Committee Members)
·  Ellen Zobrist
·  Shelia Voss
·  Katie Hathaway, MRR Education Assistant
·  Carly Hopkins, NGRREC Intern  
·  Kampbell and Ben, Counselor in Training
·  Bruce Templer
·  BluePrint4Summer, The Clark-Fox Family Foundation
·  Ann Renee Gargrave
·  Art by Angie, Angie Jungbluth
·  Eastern Missouri Dark Sky Observors, Rick Schwentker
·  Avant Gardens, Charissa Coyle
·  Missouri Department of Conservation , Darby Niswonger, Sarah Peper & Crew
·  Astral Glass Studio, Lance Stroheke & Gary Rice