4-H helps pull in local water quality grant

A saying in northeastern Michigan is that economic resources do not need to be purchased - they need to be cared for. The Toyota 4-H2O grant is helping make this possible.

A saying in northeastern Michigan is that economic resources do not need to be purchased – they need to be cared for. The Toyota 4-H2O grant is helping make this possible.

Since 2008, Toyota 4-H20 (a Toyota USA program) has invested $60,000 in northeastern Michigan to engage youth in local environmental issues. This initiative allows students in the region to incorporate what they learn in the classroom into local watershed studies and projects.

The Toyota 4-H20 funding grew a partnership between Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, Michigan 4-H, Michigan Sea Grant, and a diversity of school and community partners interested in natural resources.  This partnership eventually contributed to the 2009 establishment of the Northeast Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI). Through this water studies “learning community” initiative, the Great Lakes Fishery Trust has invested more than $450,000 in the region.

As a product of these partnerships, in 2012 more than 7,200 students from northeastern Michigan were involved in leading environmental stewardship projects in their communities. 4-H20 programming partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program, which has involved 2,997 students from seven northeastern Michigan counties in water education projects to help increase their awareness and their communities’ awareness about protecting their natural resources.

Water quality in northeastern Michigan is important because it’s part of the rich natural resources that help attract tourists to the area. Students learn about the value of water resources, the Great Lakes, Great Lakes fishery and water quality for drinking.

“Northeastern Michigan is rich in natural resources, and our Great Lakes and water resources are an important character of our communities’ quality of life,” said Brandon Schroeder, MSU Extension educator. “These youth are increasing awareness about these important resources and are providing leadership within their communities to ensure that these valued resources remain healthy.”

For example, students collect chemical, physical and biological samples and perform water quality research such as water testing and monitoring changing water quality, monitoring invasive species, promoting invasive species awareness, removing invasive species and restoring habitat.

Students at Rogers Middle School in Presque Isle County collect vertebrates and monitor temperatures of the Trout River watershed. The data collected is reported to the local drain commissioner.

Alcona High School students have worked for three years with the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments on a multiphase inventory of the local Black River watershed. By monitoring and collecting chemical, physical and aquatic life samples, students provide data to the community to help determine whether the local water quality is improving.

All of these students are accomplishing projects that are important to the community but that adults have not had time to get to. With the grant money received, teachers are able to provide resources inside their classrooms that increase students’ awareness of local environmental issues. In turn, students are taking field trips and performing research that relates directly to their class work. The educational investment in the students allows them to accomplish goals in the community. 

“This has reframed the culture in northeastern Michigan and changed how adults and community partners view youth,” Schroeder said.

One of the most exciting field trips that the students take is a shipboard excursion on a glass-bottom boat. Students can apply what they study in the classroom about water quality when they observe shipwrecks and artificial fish spawning reefs in Thunder Bay of Lake Huron.

“With the five year investment that Toyota made, we were able to grow a strong regional network and connections among resource management and educational partners over the long term,” Schroeder said. “This helped build capacity around a water studies learning community of community partners, schools and youth invested in watershed studies, and has most recently fostered a new partnership with the NOAA B-WET program, bringing nearly $100,000 in additional funding to the region surrounding these water education efforts.”

A joint proposal between 4-H20 and Michigan Sea Grant is currently pending for another almost $100,000 to continue the regional water education programming.

“The students, through their learning, are protecting Great Lakes and other natural resources while making their communities a better place to live,” Schroeder said. “These youth are taking on important projects, their efforts are valued by the communities and resource managers with whom they collaborate, and their projects are ensuring that our local environment is a better place in which to live.”

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