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MWEE Program fosters student bay stewardship - June 18, 2013

“The Chesapeake Bay is dependent upon the actions of every citizen in the watershed, both today and in the future. We recognize that the cumulative benefit derived from community-based watershed programs is essential for continued progress toward a healthier Chesapeake Bay. Therefore, we commit ourselves to engage our citizens by promoting a broad conservation ethic throughout the fabric of community life, and foster within all citizens a deeper understanding of their roles as trustees of their own local environments.”­

These are the opening lines to the Stewardship and Community Engagement section of the Chesapeake Bay 2000 agreement. This agreement, signed in 2000 by representatives from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency, was created to set goals and take actions to help create a cleaner Chesapeake Bay and a healthier Chesapeake Bay watershed.

One of these goals was to have all students in elementary, middle and high schools engage in a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience at least once a year, every year in their school.

A MWEE is an investigative or experimental project that gets all students actively engaged in thinking critically about the watershed they live in, the Chesapeake and coastal bays and the impacts humans have had, both positive and negative. Each MWEE program consists of three parts: preparation, action and reflection phases.

The preparation phase is conducted in the classroom and focuses around a question, problem or issue that the class or teacher decides. Once the topics have been chosen, then the class will learn some background information and then discuss the issue from a variety of stakeholder perspectives. The class or teacher will then decide on an outdoor project for the students to undertake that will help the Chesapeake or coastal bays watershed in some way.

The action phase is conducted mostly outdoors, during field trips or outdoor learning opportunities. It is during this phase that the students can participate in projects, collect data and make observations about whatever topic they are working on. Projects can include tree or grass plantings, stream surveys or cleanups, or any number of other outdoor learning activities. Usually the action phase involves another organization assisting and educating the children during the outdoor project. Non-profits like the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and state organizations like the Maryland State Park System can help teach the students about their local watershed and how their specific project can help the Chesapeake or coastal bays.

The last phase of the MWEE program is the reflection phase. During this phase the students will demonstrate what they have learned during the MWEE program and discuss the question, problem or issue, armed with the newly acquired data and information they gathered from the action phase. The students will analyze the collected data or evaluate the results of their project and then share these findings with other students, teachers, parents and interested citizens.

The MWEE program is not a one day or even a one week program. Typically the three phases of the program are spread out across the school year so the students can look at their topic or issue in depth. The teachers are encouraged to approach the MWEE program from a holistic approach; the MWEE program is not strictly for the science classroom and can be a great teaching tool in history, art, English, math and reading classes.­ This kind of broad approach to the MWEE topic or issue can help teach the students that environmental problems are complex, multi-faceted, and need to be solved using a variety perspectives.

As the students progress in their academic career, going from elementary to middle and from middle to high school they work on more complicated bay watershed issues. Elementary school MWEE programs might look at a single animal, like a horseshoe crab, while middle school MWEE programs might start to look at the local ecosystem in regards to aquatic animals. By the high school level, students are doing projects like looking at water quality degradation., how this could affect both aquatic and terrestrial life and where the pollutants in the water might be coming from. The students should be building upon the background information they are given and personal experience from other MWEE programs in the past.

While each class, grade level or school might focus on a different topic within the Chesapeake or coastal bays watershed all the students learn one very important lesson: stewardship of our watershed starts and ends with us. It is up to everyone, young or old, nature loving or not, to help take care of the Chesapeake and coastal bays and their watersheds. While not everyone is an expert scientist or influential politician, anyone can help to clean up, beautify and protect the watershed we both live and play in. By including the MWEE program in every year of school we are emphasizing to these young students the need for everyone to work together to help tackle these issues and hopefully we are instilling a love of nature and the environment as well.
 

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