Guest Post by Anna Urban
Since 2005, Milwaukee Riverkeeper (MRK) has led the largest volunteer water quality monitoring program in the State of Wisconsin. The data collected and published is critical to informing Wisconsin’s public agencies’ policy and management decisions that impact water quality and riparian wildlife habitat. MRK uses the science to advocate for sustainable waterways, connect people to their natural resources, and campaign for meaningful change, so residents of Milwaukee can utilize the waterways for generations to come. MRK’s education program is unique because it gives students a chance to not only learn about Milwaukee’s river system but also become scientists themselves.
MRK’s approach is one-of-a-kind because students interact with local rivers, use professional-grade testing equipment, and analyze live water samples, without leaving school grounds. It provides students the opportunity to become scientists in their own classroom and prioritizes schools without resources for off-campus field trips. While many environmental education programs in Milwaukee require schools to take students out of the classroom to show them nature, MRK provides an opportunity for schools to have a scientist come to the classroom and share ideas. Bringing the rivers into the classroom allows students from underserved schools to experience our waterways, maybe even for the first time. Students leave with an understanding and appreciation for their freshwater resources as well as exposure to future career avenues. More importantly, students can walk away knowing they themselves can affect our waterways and thus became environmental stewards. We pride ourselves in being one of the only water programs on wheels here in Milwaukee!
As a graduate student at Marquette University studying Educational Policy, I was awarded the Trinity Fellows Scholarship, a program dedicated for leaders in social, economic, and environmental justice here in Milwaukee. As the Education Coordinator for Milwaukee Riverkeeper, I have been able to build our school based programming from the ground up. It has been so rewarding finally going into classrooms after writing and editing for almost a year.
What I love about our program is it provides a sense of PLACE and PURPOSE for students in Milwaukee. Many people in Milwaukee are unaware that streams flow right through their own neighborhood. By testing local water, the students I work with receive first hand knowledge of their waterway and also develop a personal connection to their local natural resources. Students learn how their individual actions can affect our waterways as well as choices that can be made to protect our rivers. I love seeing students’ eyes light up when they see the color changing pH and D.O. tests, and then learning about what those colors mean. Our students begin to feel a sense of ownership for their waterways. I hope this inspires them to protect and preserve Earth’s most precious resource. Something that drives my work is knowing that a single meaningful interaction with water could forge a pathway for a student to implement green, sustainable practices at home or even lead to a green career path here in Milwaukee.
Editor’s Note: Anna Urban is the Education Coordinator for Milwaukee Riverkeeper, and EarthEcho Water Challenge partner. We are proud to support Milwaukee Riverkeeper and their outstanding efforts to educate young water stewards in their community through water monitoring and the EarthEcho Water Challenge. Learn more about their work at milwaukeeriverkeeper.org.