Special to the Times
Donna Turner's seventh grade students at Upson-Lee Middle school can tell you about the plants and animals that live and depend on the Flint River.
They can tell you about the pH, dissolved oxygen, phosphate, and nitrate levels found in the Flint River.
They can explain how a watershed works and share some of the history surrounding Sprewell Bluff. They know about Jimmy Carter's impact there.
How do they know these things?
They know because they experienced the Flint River first hand.
Learning beyond the classroom walls is something Turner cares about.
Every year she and other Upson-Lee Middle School teachers have taken groups of students to Sprewell Bluff to learn of the wonderful resource that is available to them right in their back yard.
Several of the students had never been to the park. So, this year, students were back at the river to experience the beauty in science.
While there, students worked with Amanda Buice, regional coordinator of the Gordon Georgia Youth Science and Technology Center (GYSTC), to collect water samples and test water quality.
All tests results were good, indicating that the water quality at the Bluff is currently in good condition.
Ken Lalumiere, Park Superintendent of Sprewell Bluff, talked to the students about the history of the park.
He also shared bird calls, artifacts, and general park information with them.
Lee Milby, of the Georgia Forest Commission, helped students identify trees in the area.
Jim Ozier, of the Department of Natural Resources, taught students about the wildlife that depends on the River ecosystem.
Eunice Graham and Carol Oliver, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, used a model of a watershed to illustrate what a watershed is and how it works.
While the primary focus of the event was on science, students learned about language arts, history and civics.
In their language class, the students had just finished reading My Side of the Mountain in which the main character survives off the land in the Catskill Mountains.
While at Sprewell Bluff, they found several things that they could eat and use for wilderness survival.
Several students were familiar with the newspaper article that ran on the front page this past September, "Budget cuts threaten state park."
They wanted to let people know that this park isn't just a place for picnics, but it is an outdoor classroom.
The students wanted their voices heard and wanted to express their opinions about the only state park on the Flint River.
Turner decided to mix science with civics and encouraged her students to write letters to Becky Kelley, Director of State Parks.
One student remarked, "It is really cool to have such a wonderful place to go right here in our own county."
"The whole experience showed students that knowledge is power and that learning happens all the time. Science doesn't just happen in the lab. It has serious implications on our lives," said Turner.
Turner was trained in teaching students about the river in a week-long course hosted by GYSTC.
She participated in a professional development course several years ago called "The Living Flint: From Beginning to End."
The course was completely paid for by an Eisenhower Grant (now known as and funded through the Teacher Quality Grant).
Teachers began the week-long study at Sprewell Bluff. They headed south to Cape San Blas, Florida, taking water samples all along the way.
They heard from politicians, business people, recreation enthusiasts, scientists, state agents, and farmers.
"The issue of water is a complex one and teachers were exposed to many view points," said Buice. "We didn't want to tell them what to think, but wanted to provide them with the tools needed to help them think responsibly about our precious resource, water."
After experiencing the Flint River in such a personal way, Turner decided her students needed a similar experience.