Cane Run Watershed focus of cleanup by fifth-graders

Cane Run Watershed Cleanup

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A tire, a basketball, a logging chain and even socks and a shirt-- they are just some of the items fifth-grade students from Russell Cave Elementary discovered when they collected trash at Green Acres Park in northern Fayette County. The students are part of the 4-H20 Ambassador Program that educates and empowers youth to conserve and protect water resources.  The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is one of several partners in the collaborative project.

The park, as well as Russell Cave Elementary, is in the Cane Run Watershed. The students have learned, in order to improve water quality, they must keep the area clean and free of trash.

“I didn’t expect to get this much stuff. It’s unbelievable,” said Taylor Adkins, a fifth-grade student. “I thought the park would be cleaner. It’s very hurtful. Mother Nature gives us all this stuff, and all we do is throw all this trash away.”

About 30 students make up the fifth-grade class at Russell Cave Elementary, which is a pilot school for the 4-H20 Ambassador Program in Fayette County. Counties in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia currently are piloting the program.

 The program includes four units. Each explores a specific question related to watersheds and water quality through hands-on, investigative activities.“Part of the project is done in the classroom or at a 4-H camp facility,” said Ashley Osborne, a University of Kentucky extension associate for environmental and natural resource issues who coordinates the 4-H20 program.  “We do hands-on activities where they learn about chemical water testing, biological water testing, as well as what are watersheds and the importance of clean water.”

4-H agents and volunteers trained on unit curriculum assist youth with the activities.

Julie Jones, Russell Cave Elementary science lab teacher, helped the students clean up the park.

“I think they think of water as what comes out of the water fountain or sink at home,” Jones said. “They are realizing that everything we put on the ground ends up in our watershed.”

When the students complete all four units, they are considered 4-H20 Ambassadors. As ambassadors, the students are required to develop and implement a community-based service project. The service project must educate community members on local watershed issues and improve the water quality of a local watershed.

Amanda Gumbert, extension water quality liaison in the UK College of Agriculture, hopes the students will take what they learn home and educate others.

 “By working with partner agencies and the library that’s in the watershed to get information out to residents, they can learn how to protect water that’s in their backyard,” Gumbert said.

Jorge Gonzalez-Bolanos, one of the fifth-graders involved in the project, believes education is the key to change attitudes.

“Try to convince them not to litter because the more you litter the more the trash goes into the water stream,” explained Gonzalez. “That’s the bad thing about it.”    

The 4-H20 Ambassador Program is a collaboration between the UK Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment, Kentucky Water Research Institute, North Carolina State University, University of Tennessee, Clemson University, University of Georgia, Georgia 4-H Foundation and the Southern Region Water Program. The program is funded by the Southern Regional Water Resource Project Grant.

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