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4H Programming and Positive Community Development in Reading, PA

Apr 06, 2017 • by Meghan Fullam, Program Assistant, Penn State Cooperative Extension Berks County
16th and Haak elementary schoolers learning about water as a natural resource

Through generous funding from the Altria Grows grant, the Berks County 4-H organization has had the opportunity to expand programming throughout the county, to include new educational student audiences in Reading elementary schools. These after school 4-H Science Clubs allow students to experience and engage in comprehensive STEM curriculum that better help them understand the world around them. One of these clubs at 16th and Haak Elementary School has fostered an incredible understanding and passion for one of the earth’s most precious natural resources: water.

Beginning in the fall, this club delved into a 4-H curriculum focusing on the importance of storm water runoff and management. Over the course of 8 weeks, students learned about the importance of the water cycle, as well as the often-disastrous impact of too little and too much rain water on the natural environment. Through various trials of this experiment, students demonstrated the importance of pervious surfaces, such as grasses and soil, in groundwater infiltration. They witnessed the effect on groundwater infiltration when impervious surfaces, such as roads, parking lots, roofs, and sidewalks, are introduced to the natural environment. And finally, they learned of sustainable storm water solutions, such as green roofs and rain gardens, to best help manage storm water within our current infrastructure. At the culmination of this curriculum, students were able to observe the pervious and impervious surfaces around their school, identify the areas best-suited for storm water solutions, and map locations for future rain gardens and tree-plantings to help manage the effect of storm water on their elementary school.

Through our exploration of storm water runoff in our 4-H Science Club, we discussed sources of pollution in waterways, its effect on marine organisms, and its impact on the environment as a whole. To engage as citizen scientists, we took a field trip to Pendora Park to test the water of the small park stream, a tributary to the Tulpehocken Creek and Schuylkill River. Students tested six factors of water quality: amount of nitrates, phosphates, and dissolved oxygen, as well as turbidity, pH, and temperature. Students recorded their findings, made observations about the stream, and discussed their final results using the park as their outdoor classroom. The students concluded that although the phosphate level was slightly higher than average, the stream was otherwise healthy. Students tied in observations about the plants growing along the stream bank, how the roots are able to retain water and soil during heavy rains, as well as the grass and other pervious surfaces that help manage large amounts of storm water runoff.

Continuing our exploration of water into the spring, our 16th and Haak Elementary Science Club students celebrated the United Nations’ World Water Day at their after school session on March 22nd. This Science Club has moved onto another 4-H curriculum, which discusses the importance of keeping our coastal ecosystems healthy in the wake of oil spills, and the students have maintained their passion for water as it relates to the well-being of our oceans. The students created posters to remind them why is important to continue to care about water, and the posters elicited responses such as: we need water to drink, to swim in, for other living things to survive, for our health, and for our happiness. 

The students at 16th and Haak Elementary have truly been impacted by the opportunity to participate in their after school 4-H Science Club. They understand and have engaged first-hand in concepts such as groundwater infiltration, impervious and pervious surfaces, impacts of water pollution, and the importance of maintaining a healthy environment to sustain our precious water resources.

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