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Water Forum's "Earth Stewardship Program" goes virtual

School has looked a little different this spring.

Students, teachers, parents and more have needed to adapt.

In previous years, the Bitter Root Water Forum has hosted field trips in May for their Earth Stewardship Program. The Earth Stewardship Program is a year-long effort with seventh grade students that features monthly classroom visits from community educators and wraps up with environmental education field trips. Due to students learning from home this spring, the field trips were adapted to a virtual format. A student who participated stated they were glad “the videos were fun to watch.”

Throughout the 2019-2020 school year, seventh graders at Victor, Lone Rock, Corvallis, and Darby middle schools have welcomed many speakers into their life science classrooms. Students came to expect a monthly visit from a local professional who presented on a specific natural resource topic. The Water Forum is grateful for the ongoing partnerships with Bitterroot National Forest, B.E.A.R., Bitterroot Valley FFA, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks who provided a variety of presentations.

Through these lessons, students learned about the importance of irrigation, snowpack, Montana native fish, and the Bitterroot watershed. Over 185 students participated in classroom programs this year.

Typically, the end of the Earth Stewardship Program features a hands-on outdoor field trip to get students out of the classroom and exploring nature. By adapting the program, students were still able to learn virtually about some of the topics that would have been covered in the field.

Community educators joined the Bitter Root Water Forum and filmed each of their segments individually at Bass Creek Recreation Area. A short educational lesson and worksheet were created along with each video for students to work through.

Students were able to learn from Leslie Nyce with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks about Montana native fish, who walked them through an educational game they could play at home. They also heard from previous Water Forum board president Dave Schultz on stream flow, the Bitterroot National Forest on Fire Ecology, and Grace Pierstorff, the Big Sky Watershed Corps member for the Water Forum on Macroinvertebrates.

One student responded that “it was cool learning about this stuff,” after completing the virtual field trip, and another said “I liked the videos and how detailed they got about each concept.

The Bitter Root Water Forum hopes that the online version encourages youth to get out in nature, and take some of the skills and lessons from the videos into their daily lives. All of the video lessons help connect youth to the watershed, and to the important role that water plays in a community.

The Water Forum’s Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) member, Grace, coordinates the education program throughout the year with the four local schools. She organizes the community educators to go into the classrooms each month, and taught the students about the Bitterroot Watershed in February. The BSWC is an AmeriCorps program in partnership between the Montana Watershed Coordination Council, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana, and the Montana Conservation Corps.

The program assists Montana’s watershed communities to make a measurable difference in local conservation efforts while strengthening the experience of young professionals. There are 35 BSWC members spread throughout the state of Montana for 2020. The Water Forum’s BSWC member position is funded in part by the Montana Watershed Coordination Council and Bitterroot Conservation District.

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