CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Hello, everybody. Welcome to this inspirational new podcast series entitled This Is How We Planet, brought to you by Nestlé Waters and iHeart. I'm your host, Charlie Arnolt, also known as WWE personality, Charlie Caruso. So, the question, how do we planet? And why is it important? I’ll tell you why: because Earth is it. It is our only address. There is no other home we can just skip off to if this one doesn't quite work out. It deserves and needs the best from us, all of us, and the only real way to help protect, preserve, or change it for the better, is to do it together.
Now, each episode takes an in-depth look at the people, and the organizations, that make our planet a better place in ways big and small, in our communities, across our country and also around the world. We'll focus on areas such as disaster response, children and health, water stewardship, recycling and so much more.
We also recognize Planet Heroes in each of these areas whose work goes above and beyond. And the best part: you, our listeners, will even have the chance to nominate your own Planet Hero to possibly be featured on a future episode.
In this episode, we're going to focus on educating children to be the next generation of water stewards. We all know that children are our future. And thus, can become our best advocates and agents of change. We're featuring just a few of the organizations that make it their mission to educate children on the importance of water stewardship and the environment. So, what do you say? Let's meet our incredible guests.
In this episode, we're going to focus on educating children to be the next generation of water stewards. We all know that children are our future. And thus, can become our best advocates and agents of change. We're featuring just a few of the organizations that make it their mission to educate children on the importance of water stewardship and the environment. So, what do you say? Let's meet our incredible guests.
First off, he's a lifelong environmentalist and the founder, President, and CEO of The Ecology School in Maine. Please welcome Drew Dumsch. Drew especially enjoys bringing people together to learn about conservation, food science, clean energy, compassion and building resilient communities. This is because The Ecology School in Maine transforms how people think about science, food, the environment and themselves through joyful, hands-on learning for all ages. Hi Drew, welcome to "This is How We Planet.”
DREW DUMSCH: Hi Charly, it's awesome to be here and I look forward to talking about water and conservation.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Alright. Next up, she is the Chief Education Officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Leigh Peake. Leigh works with middle school students and their teachers across the state to nurture scientific literacy and ocean stewardship in the next generation of Mainers. Hello Leigh.
LEIGH PEAKE: Hey, Charly. Glad to join you, also from the great state of Maine, here with Drew.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: I have never been to Maine. Now after talking to both of you, I think that will have to be my next trip.
LEIGH PEAKE: I think it's time.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Alright. Now, what do you say we move a little bit down South? Our next guests are from the Sunshine State and work together to educate children about water stewardship. The first of these ladies is Vicki Mohr, an environmental educator with the Crystal Springs Foundation at Crystal Springs Preserve, which is a 530-acre sanctuary devoted to environmental education and dedicated to the preservation of Florida's natural environment. Hello Vicki.
VICKI MOHR: Hi Charly. I'm so excited to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And you are sitting not too far away from our final guest on today's podcast. Her name is Courtney Eichinger. She is an environmental educator for the WaterVentures Mobile Science Lab. Courtney brings the exciting world of science education directly to students and the public by taking the hands-on mobile science lab to schools, fairs and communities throughout the state. Hi Courtney.
COURTNEY EICHINGER: Hi Charly, thanks so much for having us today. I'm excited to talk to everyone.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Absolutely. I think this is going to be a really fun discussion, so I say we get right into it. And Drew, I'm going to pose this first question to you, but I want everyone to bounce off of his thoughts. And I want to ask you why water stewardship is so important to teach children?
DREW DUMSCH: Well, Charly, I think one way to look at water, and at The Ecology School we like to think in broad kind of geography, geographical terms. So, we talk about watershed science and what that means is, the water that you are seeing in your place, where did it come from? Did it come from the clouds and rain? But often it comes from streams and rivers that are bringing water down from the mountains. In the case of Maine right now, I'm in a farmhouse overlooking the Saco River that started up in the mountains of New Hampshire. So, we teach students about how that water, which is really the lifeblood of the planet, flows through land. It helps crops grow. It helps trees grow. Of course, animals need water, too, so really the focus is, how does water connect every living thing on the planet?
LEIGH PEAKE: Yeah, and just downstream - we're just downstream from Drew where the river meets the ocean. And everything Drew does upon his property has an impact on us down here on the coast and the things that live in the coast. And our coastal communities in Maine thrive because of our coastline and our rich ocean resources. So, from a human perspective, it's also really important that we keep them healthy in order to make vibrant communities that can be supported by ocean industries.
VICKI MOHR: Bottom line, Charly, I just feel water is life. While 70 percent of the world is covered by water. Only 2.5 percent is fresh, and only one percent of our fresh water is easily accessible for us to drink. The earlier kids can learn the importance their actions can have on our water supply, the better equipped they'll be to protect this natural resource. At Crystal Springs Foundation, we educate on a privately owned and operated 530 acres, like you said before, and it features freshwater springs in a river habitat. All of our students, our programs are hands-on, directed learning. They're immersive science programs, which focus on the good habitat stewardship of Florida and the world around us.
COURTNEY EICHINGER: Just to add a little bit off of all of what Drew, Leigh and Vicki just said, I've been on the truck for five years now and, you know, it's just so interesting to meet so many different people, so many different students, and have the ability to educate them on water stewardship. And I think one of the connections that I always find so amazing is that a lot of students don't realize that all water on planet Earth is connected. And so, by being able to travel around with WaterVentures and have them immerse themselves in the exhibits inside and learn about the aquifer and learn about our freshwater resources and water conservation, and just how all water is connected on planet Earth, whether it be the water that we have here in Florida and the water resources in Maine and the water on the other side of the world, it's all the same water that we share. So, I think water stewardship is just so important, just so that not just students, but adults, realize that the choices that we make where we are not only impact us, but they impact people on Planet Earth in one way or another.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And Courtney, I know you take these mobile labs all over the place, specifically targeting children. What type of reactions do you get from these kids once they really realize, you know, where water comes from and how everything is connected? And do you see any type of change in their thought process after explaining all this to them?
COURTNEY EICHINGER: Yeah, definitely. It's so funny, because just to give you an idea of what the inside of WaterVentures looks like, if you just imagine the coolest museum on wheels - that's WaterVentures. And so, when you walk inside, it's designed to make it seem like you're standing in a model of the aquifer. So, that's kind of like a way that we're able to engage students right then and there as soon as they walk in the truck. They're like, "Oh, wow, this is, this is so awesome," and we're like, "Yeah. This is where your fresh water is coming from here in Florida." And then, you know, “This is our drinking water. This is the water we use to brush our teeth to wash our hands.” And the minute they make that connection, they're like, "Wow, this is really cool." We live on top of this cave system and this cave system is basically where all of our water is coming from. And then, you know, they keep going inside the truck and there's all sorts of displays and buttons. And it's just such an amazing visual opportunity for kids to see the impact that they can have on the environment, on our water resources, as well.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And I would love to hear from the rest of you on this. You all have such different tools and resources along the same lines, but how do these tools work? And how did the environments in which you're teaching them work? And Drew, we can start with you here.
DREW DUMSCH: Yeah, it's interesting, Charly, that all of us kind of come at our water science education in a different way. Crystal Springs Foundation, they've got a wonderful nature center. Gulf of Maine Research Institute is actually right in downtown Portland in these wonderful offices overlooking the bay, and they do a lot of scientific research there, too. The Ecology School is actually a residential environmental learning center. Think of it almost like a summer camp, but for schoolchildren. So, in the spring and the fall, we've got elementary and middle school students coming with their teachers, not to pop in for an hour or two, to actually spend a full week living and learning together at our campus.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: That's so cool. I want to go.
DREW DUMSCH: Yeah, we're lucky now in that we for years, we were renting a summer camp facility to do our programming. And a few years ago, we started transitioning to River Bend Farm. And I'm actually sitting in a 1794 farmhouse. I'm looking out right now, to my right, at the Saco River. And actually, a Poland Spring bottling plant is just a few miles up the river from us. And on our left, I'm looking at an excavator. So, if you hear a large boom that would be an excavator building our new Poland Spring Education and Dining Commons building, which is going to be where we're going to be serving meals. And because we're a working farm, we’ll be growing food on site. And this is a lot about water. Our buildings are to be super green, so we're going to be doing water conservation, drip irrigation on our crops, so we use less water. We're going to be powering the buildings with 718 solar power panels. The dormitory will have 144 beds. So, we'll have a lot of kids and their chaperones coming in the spring and fall to study about watershed science and conservation. So, it's really the act of living and learning together that The Ecology School at River Bend Farm really likes to do, and it's been doing for the past 21 years.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And Leigh, I know at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, you do hands-on learning, not only in a lab, but also, in the field and in the classroom. So, how do your lessons work?
LEIGH PEAKE: It's great. One of the things we share with Drew is a real effort to try to teach complexity. So, to help kids see the entire ecosystem at the same time and how water functions is a central piece of that. So, we do a couple of things. Like Courtney, we have a bus at the center of our work, but we go the other direction. We bus about 70 percent of the state’s fifth and sixth graders every year here to the lab and they spend two and a half hours doing the same science that our scientists do, understanding the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and how changing dynamics in that ecosystem are impacting what lives there. We also send kids out into the field doing what's called “citizen science.”
So, these are kids who are collecting data to contribute to scientists across the state who are trying to manage our environmental resources. So, all of that has a real emphasis on the quality of the water that feeds everything in the ecosystem and really trying to take that whole ecosystem approach. And then the final piece, is that we do a lot of work with teachers, as much as we can do in our space and in our programs. It's our amazing teachers in this country that see these kids every single day and nurture their creativity and their scientific endeavors. We try to really give those teachers what they need to feel confident leading kids in really authentic, engaging science in their classrooms. So, that's sort of the core elements of what we do.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And then finally, Vicki, I mean it's incredible to even think about the vastness of where you're operating out of - 533 acres of a sanctuary devoted to environmental education. I know that you've said that some of the kids come to this environment really afraid of the preserve, but once they get there and really get to learning, they cannot wait to come back.
VICKI MOHR: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that is why I just love my job. I don't even feel, at times, I'm working because I just love it so much. We have amazing programs that get kids immersed in the water. Some of our favorite programs for the kids are we have a biodiversity program that turns students into biologists for the day. They get in the river with large nets and they're amazed to find so much diversity of life living in the native tape grass. Students learn about pollution sensitivity of the animals and the responsibility we all have to keep our waterways clean and healthy for both animals and humans.
And then we have a super-cool water chemistry program, where students become hydrologists for the day. And they start collecting samples of river water, spring water, and then they are actually testing the different levels of dissolved oxygen, nitrates and pH. And then they learn how the results from these tests can positively or negatively impact a watershed, the animals and the plants that live in the water, and the animals and humans that depend on the water as a resource. It's super important for kids to learn how people, plants and animals are all dependent on water. And, most importantly, how people's actions can affect all water, like pollution. We talk about storm drains. They lead right into the river, and fertilizer as runoff that goes into our rivers, our lakes and our ocean.
And then we're super fortunate that all of our programs can be enhanced with a hike around our spring, our river system, and a discussion about the beautiful aquifer that we have below our state. It's crazy to think Florida has over 900 springs in our state. So, it's super important for Floridians to understand that.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Something that I want to ask you, Drew, and maybe you can even explain what these learning disciplines mean before talking about how they differentiate. But what is the new E-STEM learning discipline, and how does it differ from STEM?
DREW DUMSCH: Yeah. It's an interesting concept. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. And it was actually created about 20 years ago. It's an acronym that the National Science Foundation came up with as a way to really put an emphasis on learning that is, just like you're saying, Charly, hands-on, and that is interdisciplinary. So, the idea of taking science and technology and engineering and math, and putting a focus on that, is really important for our national economy, for entrepreneurialism, for new inventions.
The interesting thing at The Ecology School, we are not at all anti-tech. However, during our experiences, when kids are spending a week here at The Ecology School, we actually ask them to unplug, to not have their cell phones, their electronic games, because we want them to spend a week focusing on nature and focusing on each other. And that, actually, is a great way to learn about technology. That's maybe not a laptop, but it might be a soil core you're trying to check out how rich the soil is for growing, or a salinity meter, seeing how much salt is in the water at a tide pool. So, giving really basic technology tools to students.
In fact, the way we farm here at River Bend Farm, it's called agro-ecology. And that just means we're taking ecological concepts and using them to grow food in a more sustainable way. So, we've really embraced this idea of E-STEM, or environmental STEM, that getting kids outside is a great way to learn about science, technology, engineering and math.
In fact, for our multi-year programs that we do at schools, and we've been partnered up with Poland Spring for over 18 years now, where we will work with the school, starting in kindergarten all the way up to, say, sixth grade, seventh or even eighth grade, so, every year kids get to work with The Ecology School. And what we came up with, is this idea of ecosySTEM. So, we take the word ecosystem – and ecosystems are basically distinct areas of nature, like a forest or a pond or a river or a tide pool or salt marsh. And the way we view an ecosystem, is that it's a perfect outdoor classroom to teach STEM. And when we're doing, and I think Leigh just a little while ago started talking about the interconnections and systems, basically, how things are connected. So, in the ecosySTEM program, we use ecosystem as an outdoor classroom to teach systems - how things are connected - and we do that using STEM skills- science, technology, engineering and math. And the thing is, that doesn't have to be boring. We like, and I think you'll appreciate this, Charly, with an entertainment background, too, you can have fun and learn at the same time. We do a lot of skits.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Absolutely.
DREW DUMSCH: We have a huge costume closet. We have sea star costumes and a sun costume and a tree costume. So, really, we like to use storytelling and humor and laughter as ways to teach important watershed science concepts but do it in a way that's going to be super fun and memorable.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: I think that's a great idea. And, in fact, I just want to touch back on what you do, where you are in terms of unplugging. I think that's so important. And I think that really forces your students to really take in what they're experiencing. And I wish people would do that everywhere.
DREW DUMSCH: Charly, life is 3-D and it's very sensory, and it's incredible. And I think when we get caught up in our smartphones or TV or computer, we tend to forget how incredible being outside is, and the real world is, the real world's pretty awesome. So, we love getting kids out in the real world.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Yes.
VICKI MOHR: Oh, I was just going to say, I totally agree with what Drew is saying, because that is the focus that we have here, too. When kids come out to our site, this might be their one and only time to come out into the environment or into the wild. And if we make it stale, boring - this is a plant and the scientific name is a duh, duh, duh, duh - we're going to lose those kids. But if they come out and they catch a fish and I love it when they get this little crawfish, which might be just three inches large, and they think it's the hugest crawfish - and they're like, "Oh my gosh, this is huge." And we encourage that because they're so excited and we want them to feel good about themselves, have fun. Because then that one experience will bring them back out to nature and they'll relive that experience. So, I love that Drew just said that.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And I think this is all so amazing. I love these hands-on, real-life experiences. But we also have to take note of the fact that right now we are in the midst of an international pandemic. COVID-19 has really disrupted a lot of the learning schemes I'm sure that all of you have been practicing for years. So, Leigh, I want you to start with this question. How have you had to alter your programs in order to adapt to COVID-19?
LEIGH PEAKE: Yeah, it has really been a challenging period for all of us who believe in this sort of hands-on approach. So, one of the interesting things has been to watch the entire, sort of what we call the informal education sector, offer up resources to teachers to help them do their job in this time, and to offer up programming to help parents and teachers keep kids engaged.
We took a slightly different approach, which was, again, we were watching teachers be completely overwhelmed with the task of teaching kids during the pandemic, and also the sort of tsunami of resources coming at them, and they were talking to us about having sort of a second job to try to understand all the things that they could use in a virtual environment. So, we actually decided to just take over the classroom. So, basically, gave teachers a break. We took over their classrooms for a five-day session and ran our usual programs through a virtual platform. So, kids were still exploring the ecosystem of the Gulf of Maine, but they were doing it through digital tools. And meanwhile, their teachers were just getting a break while our super-talented educators took over the classroom. There was a really positive response to that. I don't know that we'll do that all the way through the fall. And there's a many different versions of what school looks like this fall here in Maine. And I would only say, that places like The Ecology School are showing up as super-important to that. That outdoor spaces and taking care of, and taking advantage of outdoor spaces, as part of the educational landscape, is both safe and add to kids' sort of total sanity during this time, and also delivers educational outcomes. So, I think this combination of supporting teachers, and also getting kids outside in order to do some of their work, is an important piece of how we're going to handle the fall.
COURTNEY EICHINGER: Just going off of what Leigh just said, you know it's definitely something that none of us could have prepared for. But I think we're handling what's come at us as best as we possibly can. And for WaterVentures, it's definitely been kind of a scary time, because WaterVentures is 100 percent mobile science center that travels throughout the state of Florida. So, we did, unfortunately, have to put the traveling aspect of it to a stop. And March 13th was the temporary last day for this platform. And that day, we returned it to Crystal Springs Preserve. where it will eventually be used as a static exhibit when we do have students on site. So, in that aspect of COVID, it's been very unfortunate because WaterVentures is just such an amazing resource for schools and for events. And so, that's been kind of sad. But, of course, there's always hope that it's going to get back on the road once COVID kind of subsides, and hopefully it's now soon. But what we've done, just like Leigh and like a lot of other organizations, is we've come up with distance learning programs. And our distance learning program is called Crystal Springs Live. And so, we've prerecorded all of these videos as resources for teachers, we've created booklets, as well. And these booklets include pre and post-tests. And we use these pre and post-tests to see what the percent positivity and knowledge gained is. They also come with vocabulary words, activity sheets, supplemental activities and websites. And then we've also created discussion questions. So, even after teachers and students, or just general members of the community, are finished watching our videos, they can take the discussion and they can continue it in their everyday lives or in the classroom or online.
So, it's definitely been an interesting time. But I think, at this point in time, it's just a matter of thinking outside the box, getting creative, you know, figuring out how we can help our teachers that are definitely stressed to the max, using the resources that we have, and just making the best of the situation at hand.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Absolutely, yeah.
DREW DUMSCH: You know, Charly, hearing Leigh and Courtney and Vicki talking about how they're responding to COVID, really, it’s kind of the worst of times and the best of times. I mean, it's the worst because we're dealing with the global pandemic, of course, and the impacts of that. But as we were learning from the research on COVID-19, that being outside is safer than being inside and that's so much what we'd like to do is get people outside. So, even if now it's more of coming up with virtual ways to engage with classroom teachers and help them feel comfortable getting their students outside the classroom this fall; whether it's just going, stepping outside the door and the surrounding school yard. And also working with parents, getting them comfortable taking their kids outside more.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So, I want to ask you all, do you really see a difference? I mean, these kids, they come and they learn, they get excited, but are you seeing a difference in terms of what they're learning and how they're maybe putting this information into good practice and helping to become more environmentally sustainable human beings?
LEIGH PEAKE: We definitely see it. I mean, the two things I would say, Charly, that are just examples of what we see – One is that one of our amazing teacher partners turn this into a project where her kids produced public service announcements. So, they're taking the knowledge that they gained through the program and really trying to educate their entire communities about what they learned about stewardship of the environment. So, it was just one example of them kind of putting that into action. And it's pretty hard to resist a 10 to 12-year-old, who is compelling you to think about how to take care of the Earth that they're going to inherit.
The other is, we frequently have kids who are now in college or post-college walk in and say the experience that they had in our lab was what made them decide to go into Marine science or decide to go into stewardship science. And so those are…
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Oh, that's amazing.
LEIGH PEAKE: Yeah, they're just total gold for us and they keep us going. And I know everybody else has those experiences, too. But just never underestimate the power that a single compelling experience can have in a kid's life.
DREW DUMSCH: Yeah, Leigh, that's a great example of people going on into the sciences. And we have an example - a young woman who went to school in the Poland area and came to The Ecology School and also worked with the Poland Spring Brookie Buddies program and ended up being a biologist. So, when you have those, those are golden, and that's definitely a goal. And my thing, you know, I had talked a little bit earlier about STEM. Obviously, every child will not become a scientist, but every child should be a citizen who understands science. And that's important. And I think the immediacy of our programs, and at The Ecology School, we like to say we help remove disguises. Because you'll ask kids, "Where does your light come from?" and they'll say, "Oh, when I flip on the switch." So, they have no idea where their electricity or "Where does your food come?” Or “You love potato chips. Where does the potato chip come from?” And they're like, "The factory." They have no idea that a potato chip starts as a tuber underground, covered in dirt. And I told the kid that once and he just freaked out. He could not believe that his lovely potato chips started from the ground.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: I love that.
DREW DUMSCH: And same with water. I was like, "Where does water come from?” “It comes from your faucet.” Or “It comes from a bottle” or “It's in my pool." I mean, just really no concept of where things actually start and originate. So, I think the power of a Crystal Springs Foundation program or a Gulf of Maine Research Institute program or spending a week at The Ecology School’s River Bend Farm campus, is that we kind of - those disguises and those lack of understanding of this basic water and air and soil and sunlight - things that just make life possible, that's the power of our education programs, is getting people grounded in the realities of how things work in the world.
VICKI MOHR: And once again, Drew, I have to piggyback off of what you say, because I so appreciate what Drew is saying. Just like he feels, everybody needs to understand science, whether you like it or not, but understand it because that's when you respect it. Same thing here. We get kids that don't want to go in the water. That's okay. We don't force them, but we then go ahead and say, "That's fine. We're all different. But as long as you understand you do need fresh water, also." And you can go ahead and live your life and not be an environmentalist, but that understanding that we all need water for life, and the connection, just the other day, I was remembering there was a child…We were talking about going swimming in our spring, and I always say, they're like, "Oh, do we have to put sunscreen on?" And I'm like, "Well, okay, if you need to put it on, could you check to see if it's reef safe?" Because we talk about how our spring water goes into the river, the river heads to the ocean and how sunscreens can affect the ocean and the coral reefs. And here's the connection that was made. This child raised his hand and said, "Well, Ms. Vicki, if I'm going in the river and I just sprayed myself with bug spray, does that now affect the water?" Right there I did my job. I could go now.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Wow.
VICKI MOHR: Because I was just so impressed with that child taking it to that next step.
DREW DUMSCH: Yeah. That making connections. And the thing is I love…we're called The Ecology School and ecology is the science of making connections. I think hearing from both you, Vicki and Courtney, and what you're doing, Leigh, up in Portland, Maine at GRMI, we're helping make important connections. People who can't make connections can't make good decisions.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So, how has COVID-19 affected water, as a whole, affected water stewardship? Is it for the better? Is it for the worse?
DREW DUMSCH: During COVID it's almost like this, it's a sped-up version of what might happen if we don't deal with climate change, and we don't deal with conservation issues and protecting water resources and shifting to more sustainable economies. Because we're seeing it, for a while there, we couldn't find flour or toilet paper, you get disruptions there. And then there's the health ramifications.
So, in a way, it goes back to what I was saying earlier. It's the worst of times and the best of times. The worst is, of course, this whole stay-at-home and unemployment and the deaths by COVID, all these horrible things. And yet it's giving us a wakeup call, kind of time to reset and rethink how we do things. And maybe doing business as usual isn't going to work. And that we can come out of this pandemic looking at the world a little bit differently and making choices a little bit or a lot differently.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Leigh, what have you noticed?
LEIGH PEAKE: The pandemic has really put families under so much stress; parents trying to take care of kids and do their full-time jobs at the same time. But the silver lining has been, at least we're starting to hear from parents who have taken a moment to engage deeply with their kids' experience of nature and their kids' education and in ways that they just didn't or couldn't previously. And I think that's going to have long-lasting value for water stewardship. But just generally speaking, for how kids and families engage with nature, with water, with education. I think that's going have long-lasting, positive effects.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So, if nothing else, we can look at the pandemic is having a silver lining. You know, maybe we are starting to develop more long-term practices that will do some good for the world.
VICKI MOHR: I think it's always good to focus on the positive. When kids come here, and we spoke about this the other day also, you can paint a picture of such gloom and doom, and instead, what we want to try to do at Crystal Springs Foundation, is educate the kids that they have answers. They can make a difference. One little thing that they do conserving water at their home, it can make a huge effect if everybody did their part. And I love hearing that, I do believe this pandemic has, the nature has helped people heal in so many different facets, with so many different concerns that they've all had to deal with, that we've all had to deal with.
DREW DUMSCH: It’s so exciting hearing, not only the topics you're tackling here, Charly, in your podcast, but the work that Leigh and Courtney and Vicki are doing is that we're giving actionable, hopeful steps that people can take to make sure the future is bright. And then it helps build community.
I love the idea of community, whether it's a local community, a watershed community, a global community - that working together, we really can make sure that the future isn't some weird kind of Mad Max thing, that it's a very hopeful, healthy, happy place to be.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And building community is so important. I think educating ourselves and then going on to educate others with what we learned is so vital. And I want to know through each of all of your programs, have you noticed that the kids that you're instructing have gone on to then teach their parents?
VICKI MOHR: Oh, absolutely. What is exciting is, I've been here a while. Our facility has been here since 2002, and we now have kids that are teachers that are excited to bring their students to our facility. And it's just so rewarding to see these teachers remembering what they did. And that is why they're now bringing their students. So that's exciting for me.
COURTNEY EICHINGER: Something at WaterVentures that we always try to tell the kids at the very end - we always do a wrap-up discussion with them. We're always like, "Take this knowledge home. Share it. Share it with one friend. Share it with two friends. Share it with your brothers, your sisters, your moms, your dads." And they are always like, "Yeah, I'm going to do it."
LEIGH PEAKE: Yeah, I would offer one of the nice things we saw this spring in our Citizen Science program, where kids are going to collect data was, basically, the whole family going out to do that work. And so, that notion about doing science together or doing something in nature together, then makes you a closer observer in nature. And it was awesome to watch kids be the experts and kind of flip the authority system in the family, where the kid was the expert in what we were looking for, and what it looked like and how do identify it. So, those were really great moments to see again, maybe a little bit of a silver lining of everybody being stuck together during the pandemic.
DREW DUMSCH: Yeah, the whole idea of the kids we teach then impacting their parents is important. In fact, at The Ecology School, we use the concept of bringing it home. That we want kids to have a wonderful time here at our River Bend Farm campus. But if they go home and say, "Well, that's great. I was on a beautiful farm in Maine for a week, but it has nothing to do with my own life," we would have failed in our curriculum, so, that kind of bring it home. And I'm thinking of email we got from some parents last year, and we get a lot of these, but this one was kind of tongue-in-cheek. It's like, "Thanks a lot, Ecology School. Now my kid is insisting that we have to start composting all our stuff."
DREW DUMSCH: But then there's this sweet, "I think you've had more impact on my child than I have in the last few years. I mean, they just came home a totally different kid."
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So, what are some things that parents can do to find more information about programs for their kids, or even to engage them at home?
COURTNEY EICHINGER: So, for us, for WaterVentures, and I'm even just going to speak on behalf of Crystal Springs Foundation right now, as well, parents, teachers, community members, they can visit our websites, waterventures.us or crystalspringsfoundation.org. And through the websites, they can get access to our distance learning programs, Crystal Springs Live.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Does anyone else have any resources that are available to families while they're at home?
DREW DUMSCH: Charly, in Maine we have both Gulf of Maine Research Institute and The Ecology School, some of our staff are on that board of directors. And the Maine Environmental Education Association really came together recently to bring different groups together and to start offering online learning. On their website they have links that you can go to different, including The Ecology School, during the spring, we were creating little videos called “Nature Nuggets,” where we would model one of our activities from our ABCs of Ecology guide. And it just has been a great way to collaborate, so that if Leigh has a great online distance learning program already, The Ecology School, we don't have to reinvent it. We can use the findings from the field activities. So, it's really created a really collaborative spirit now. And I'm seeing that in Maine, I'm seeing that regionally and I'm seeing that in a national way.
LEIGH PEAKE: I think there's some really low-hanging fruit for parents. So, we all have resources and videos and stuff on our website. But as simple as parents sort of having kids go out and draw something in nature. Or if you're in a city and you don't have the access to the outside space that all of us do, there's clouds at your disposal. Clouds are a central piece of the water cycle. You can draw clouds, you can investigate clouds, you can categorize clouds. So, I think some of it is just a sort of one percent increase in parents having kids observe nature carefully, whatever is around you, whether it's bugs or clouds or trees or flowers, and that contributes to kids' ecological learning and environmental sensibility.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: I was going to ask, does water stewardship vary depending on the region and the country you're in?
DREW DUMSCH: Oh, yeah. Depending on where you are geographically, how water functions in terms of agriculture and ecosystems and the economy are totally different. I think that's part of water science education, is understanding the variety of how water functions and how available it is or not available in different parts of the country, in different parts of the world.
LEIGH PEAKE: Yeah, I think one of the hardest things about water stewardship is that it's both global and local at the same time. So, global dynamics are really the things that are at work, creating vastly different experiences of water locally, whether it's extremes of drought or extremes of storm and proliferation of water, sea level rise, etc. So, it's a difficult one sometimes for people to see in its entirety because it has both aspects to it.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Absolutely. Well, I think some of the numbers that you see around the world are really just staggering in terms of who has access to water and who doesn't. In fact, just released recently a report from the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund, they just said more than 800 million children globally are not able to wash their hands, which, as we know, is one of the key things that are being preached in terms of avoiding COVID-19. So, these children don't have access to handwashing resources at their schools or their homes, so this is a really big problem. So, piggybacking off that, I want to know what challenges could children face in the future in regards to water?
LEIGH PEAKE: Yeah, I think we touched on it a little bit, Charly, a second ago, which is the future is going to be one of extremes. Climate change is going to have us in worlds that are extremely dry, extremely wet, potentially extremely flooded. And I think, I personally feel it's really important to build kids' sensibility, both about their local environment and what's going to happen, but also to build a real empathy for the worldwide challenge of climate change and of what's happening with water globally. I think we have to be, no matter where we are, we are stewards of the global resource that is water.
And so, even as we're engineering solutions for whatever challenge we have locally, whether that's drought or flooding, we also have to keep a sensibility about what's happening globally.
DREW DUMSCH: The future is unpredictable and the best way we can face that is being resilient, understanding what might happen and then being ready if it is. And I think for The Ecology School, now that we've moved to a 105-acre farm here at River Bend Farm, a huge part of what we can do, in terms of modeling water stewardship is how you grow food. Because the growing of food is a huge water resource use. So, if we can model things like raised farm beds, low till that we don't really till the soil as much so we can help keep the organic matter there, which then holds in the water. Using things like drip irrigation, rain barrels catching water that comes off the roofs during rainstorm and using that to irrigate. So, we can kind of model water stewardship by how we grow our food, which I think is really significant.
LEIGH PEAKE: I wanted to add one thing, too, which is that I do think that there are voices that are less heard today that naturally have stewardship as part of their culture. Our indigenous communities have been thinking about stewardship and had that as a core cultural value forever, and been living on these lands forever. And some of the methods, even some of the ones that Drew talked about - how we cultivate agriculture - we moved away from that over the last few centuries. And I think it's time to reengage and raise those voices up because I think some of what they know is exactly what we all need to hear.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So, what are some things that children, adults, families as a whole can do to be the best water stewards that they can be, just on a daily basis?
COURTNEY EICHINGER: For me, one of the things I always talk about with students is something just very small. Something like, "Turn the water off when you brush your teeth." That is something that, I think we just get so involved in our everyday routines, that you just brush your teeth, you leave the water running. Well, okay, it's easy to tell them that, but then when you tell them how many gallons of water they can save by turning the water off when they brush their teeth, that's something, that's a visual right there for them. So, right there, they make that connection. It's like, "Oh, that's pretty cool." And then, it's like, "Yeah, now multiply that by the number of people in your family and that's how much water you can save in a day. Then, do it for the entire year." So, I just think, again, I'm all for small changes every day, small steps.
DREW DUMSCH: Some choices are really kind of old school. My grandmother had a rain barrel. So, when we put, at The Ecology School, we put a rain barrel on the corner of the building to catch rainwater, to irrigate some of our garden beds, people were like, "Wow, that's crazy." I'm like, "No, people used to do that." And I think beyond, there's those daily choices - Courtney's mentioned things like not letting the water run when you're brushing your teeth - but because water is connected to everything, things like what kind of clothes you buy and what kind of food you buy actually is a water decision. That if you decide to buy, make a commitment to go to a Farmer's Market or begin to buy some food that is local. That means you've made a choice about water.
VICKI MOHR: And you know, because we deal with kids, we all know that we have to get silly to get their attention or be creative or talk about the gross stuff. But, the little things... And I think, Leigh, you'll appreciate this. Because we're always heading to the ocean, we try to teach kids we're always downstream of somebody. And the simple thing, in Tampa especially, picking up your dog poop. And when we're in our chemistry class, that's a nitrate, that's a nutrient. That nutrient goes straight into a storm drain. So many kids don't realize that, it goes right into the river, straight to the ocean, and it's affecting the quality of the ocean. And then we talk about sunscreen, like I said earlier.
LEIGH PEAKE: Yeah. We also tell kids the number one thing they can do is share their knowledge with other people. Because even though what they do individually is super important, there's a multiplier effect every time they share that knowledge with family or friends or grandparents or whoever. So, you know the old saying that knowledge is power? And I think spreading that knowledge is the number one thing that little kids can do. And they have a lot more power with sharing that than they think they do.
VICKI MOHR: Absolutely, Leigh. I truly believe people don't do things to harm the planet on purpose. They just don't know.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: I'm actually mind blown at the little things that you all have just mentioned. There are things that I would never in my life have thought about doing, or not doing, in order to help preserve the planet, preserve water, be a water steward. I'm really excited that I've learned all these things from all of you, because now I can take these and pass them along.
A big thank you to all four of you, Drew, Leigh, Vicki and Courtney, for sharing your insights and also your perspectives. And I hope that they've inspired you as much as they have me. And it is certain that they've inspired thousands of children through their passion for the environment.
And now, we would like to highlight a very special person, whose commitment to educating children through her work as the Director of Educational Partnerships at The Ecology School has inspired a new generation of water stewards. I am so honored to recognize our latest PLANET HERO, Meg Edstrom Jones.
As a former fourth grade teacher with a love for science, Meg says she's grateful for that background, because it really allows her to provide better authentic learning experiences for students outdoors, where they can live, learn, work and play. And most importantly, the children start to make connections between themselves and nature as they begin to realize how everything is connected. So, how do kids make these connections? How does ecology impact their daily lives? I recently spoke about this with Meg. So, let's hear straight from her why she is so passionate about ecology and kids, and what makes Meg our PLANET HERO.
Meg, I'm so excited to have you on This Is How We Planet and congratulations on being our PLANET HERO.
MEG EDSTROM JONES: Thank you. It's quite the honor. I'm not sure I deserve it, but I'll accept it.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: You absolutely deserve it. I mean, I got to learn a lot about The Ecology School through the podcast, which seems so incredible. I also saw that you're a former fourth grade teacher. So, I know one thing about teachers, they're very passionate. My mother was a teacher. I think teachers are such special people in our society and they can never be replaced. So, thank you for everything that you do first and foremost. But what is it that makes you so passionate about your work?
MEG EDSTROM JONES: Well, when I moved to Maine…I grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Maine because I wanted to teach, and I wanted to live in Maine. So, I was trained here, and I really loved teaching. I loved being with the kids, but something was missing. And even though the school I was working at, I was able to bring my kids outside; I was able to really engage them in hands-on science. But it wasn't until I discovered The Ecology School that I really figured out what was missing. And it was what I wanted to help students and teachers to do what I was doing and to get outside and to have some more authentic experiences outside, and learning and being, doing hands-on science, and then be able to take that excitement with them back into their classrooms or back to their home communities.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Well, I remember when I was in school, the hands-on learning was always the coolest. I mean, like you said, it always just gets you so much more excited when you're actually doing the things you're talking about or getting to witness them in real life, rather than just reading about them in a book or watching a movie about it, let's say. So, talk to me a little bit more about how kids do make the connections between themselves and nature through your educational programs.
MEG EDSTROM JONES: So, I think the most important thing is that we get outside. We don't just talk about it. We don't look at it on a screen. We immerse kids in being outdoors. Kids notice everything. I have two little kids of my own. It's been one of the most fun things about these at-home days is that I've been able to spend so much time outside with them. And by removing that barrier to being outdoors, we've removed the disassociation with it, right? We're totally connected. We can see how we're connected to it. If we're talking about what animals are doing in a forest, we can actually see what they're doing in a forest, and we can connect that back to our lives - how we eat, maybe where our food comes from, who got the food there, where our waste goes after that. And once we're connected to that outdoor environment, we can start to see how we are a part of it and how our impacts, whether they're good or bad, can really affect the environment.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Now my next question for you is, why you call it ecology, the science of making connections, because here I am making these connections.
MEG EDSTROM JONES: Yeah, so Drew probably said the same thing I'm about to say. But as an English major, it's his responsibility to kind of break down what these words mean. And ecology really breaks down into being the study of our home. So, the study of our Earth. And in order to study our home, we need to be thinking about the connections between the living and nonliving things that are all around us. And an important part of our connection is that we are one of those living things. So, as a living thing on this planet Earth, how are we responsible for our role in it and our impact on it?
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Why is it so important to teach these concepts to kids at a young age?
MEG EDSTROM JONES: I think the most important reason to teach these concepts is to instill an understanding of science and what science is. A lot of times, what we see is that children aren't really getting exposed to science and especially not authentic science at an early age, so that by the time they get to middle and high school, they're not really grounded in some pretty basic concepts. And where kids can get outside and they can notice these connections, they experience living and nonliving things in their environments, they can start to understand when those environments are not functioning properly, and again, what kind of impact they can have on it, what they might be able to do to change what's happening. And in terms of something like water stewardship, everyone is connected to water, just like everyone is connected to food. And the importance of having healthy water access and equitable access to that water is something that impacts all of us.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: I'm sure it's amazing when you get to see that light bulb go off in the kid's head, they're having that aha moment of like, “Oh, I get it now,” and making the connections that we're talking about. So, that's probably one really cool thing that you see on a very frequent basis, but what would you say is the best part of your job?
MEG EDSTROM JONES: The best part of my job is probably working with kids who don't identify themselves as being successful in school and then having them come to The Ecology School and go outside, enjoy being outside and also enjoy learning. And maybe even not really getting that what they're doing is learning. That kind of light bulb, like you were talking about, is probably the most satisfying thing for me as a former teacher, as a now parent and as an Ecology School staff, that's it, to be able to get excited and passionate about something, is huge.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Well, Meg, you seem awesome. And I think that, well, I know that the kids probably love working with you. You seem to have such a bubbly personality, tons of energy and obviously very intelligent. So, I want to say thank you again and also congratulate you one more time on being our PLANET HERO.
MEG EDSTROM JONES: Well, thank you so much. This was really fun. I enjoyed being here today.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Thank you so much, Meg, for inspiring us to be our own planet heroes. And thank you, again, to our guests, Drew, Leigh, Vicki and Courtney, for sharing the good work that they do by educating children to be the next generation of water stewards. They truly make our planet a better place for all of us, not just for now, but for future generations to come.
And I want to ask, do you know someone who is a PLANET HERO? How have they made your community or state a better place to live? We'd love to hear about them and the work that they do. You can nominate them at www.thisishowweplanet.com, and we may just feature them on a future episode.
And, if you would like to learn more about the people and the organizations we've just spoken with, please, again, visit www.thisishowweplanet.com. There, you can also find online resources and fun lessons for both parents and kids.
We really hope you enjoyed the discussion. We thank you so very much for joining us. And we look forward to having you again with us next time for another episode of This Is How We Planet.