Testing the waters together
Since 2004, students from SMSU and Marshall Public Schools have worked together on a water monitoring project. Some, like MHS senior Whitney Schwartz, have been both students and mentors.
On the day before the Governor’s Pheasant Opener, lots of people around Marshall were preparing to get out into the field. But for some it wasn’t about hunting — it was about scientific field work.
While a chilly drizzle fell from the sky, young people climbed off of school buses the morning of Oct. 13, and started setting up equipment near the banks of the Redwood River north of Marshall. The group, made up of Southwest Minnesota State University students, Marshall High School biology students, and seventh-grade science students from Marshall Middle School, were there to check on the river.
The Redwood River Monitoring and Mentoring Project is now in its 13th year of bringing students of different ages together to learn about water quality. By now, some students, like MHS senior Whitney Schwartz, have had the chance to participate in middle school, high school and as a college student.
“I think it was a fun experience,” Schwartz said. “It taught me the importance of how we treat our water.” And coming back as a mentor gave her a chance to meet new people.
Dr. Emily Deaver, professor of environmental science at SMSU, said Schwartz was one of two SMSU students she knew of who had taken part in the monitoring program at all three levels. Schwartz said she’s currently taking SMSU classes through the Postsecondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) program.
The Redwood River Monitoring Project got started in 2004, as a joint effort between SMSU, Marshall High School and Marshall Middle School. Deaver, MHS biology teacher Holly Knudson, and MMS science teacher Carrie Sueker were all out at the river testing sites with their students on Oct. 13.
As part of the program, SMSU and MHS students learn how to do different water monitoring tests, and mentor seventh-grade students as they conduct the tests together.
Schwartz remembered her first experiences working with mentors from SMSU.
“As a seventh-grader, I was a little intimidated, because it’s college students,” she said. But the experience turned out to be a good one.
Coming back as a mentor for the project was a whole different experience for Schwartz.
“For the teaching part, you’ve got to know everything,” she said. She and other SMSU students had to learn about all the tests they’d be doing, and how to interpret the results — “What the numbers mean, and what to expect.”
Mentors met with younger students the day before testing, Schwartz said. “We got to tell them about the background of what we’re doing.”
Deaver said over time, the River Monitoring Project has expanded to work with more partners, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and more student groups, like SMSU agriculture education students and Marshall FFA students.
All together, more than 3,300 students and 10 teachers have been part of the mentoring and monitoring project, Deaver said.
Student groups head out to the Redwood River once every fall and spring, and conduct tests at three different sites. This gives them a chance to monitor the river just before it reaches Marshall, as it flows through town, and after it leaves Marshall, Deaver said.
Last week, students recorded data like the river’s temperature, how many solid particles are in the water, and the levels of oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorous in the water. All those factors can affect the health of the river, and plants and animals living in it.
“We’re testing the amount of dissolved oxygen,” in samples of river water, Schwartz said of the group of students she and Martins Esien were working with.
Students also tested how fast the river was flowing. During the morning test session, DNR hydrologist Kyle Jarcho strategized with MHS student Jordyn McDonald on the best spot to toss an orange into the river and time how quickly it floated downstream.
After observing the river’s movement, Jarcho pointed out one area to McDonald.
“We want to put it right here, in the middle of this flow,” he said.
On that toss, it took the orange 21 seconds to reach a spot downstream where McDonald’s classmates were waiting.
After testing, Deaver said students got a chance to go over the data they collected. The information students have collected since 2004 is posted online, at http://www.smsu.edu/rrmp/index.html.
Schwartz said being part of the Redwood River Monitoring Project has been a good experience. She plans to study business in college, but the things she’s learned in the monitoring project could be helpful for anyone, she said. It was also fun to do hands-on learning.
“It’s definitely good to get out of the classroom once in a while,” she said.