ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
“In the end, we’ll conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand what we have been taught.”
Although this quote comes from Baba Dioum, it also embodies the teaching philosophy of Marion Elementary School’s fourth-grade teacher Ginger Becker.
Becker combines her knowledge of natural resources with her passion for teaching today’s youth, and the result has provided her fourth-grade students the opportunity to not only explore the world of natural resource conservation, but understand and thrive in it.
Because of her efforts to educate the youth about conservation and the necessary role it plays in their everyday life, Becker has been chosen as the recipient of the Conservation Education Award sponsored by the Marion County Conservation District.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” Becker said of her career in education that now spans 18 years. “Everyone needs to understand that intelligence is a function of experience of life.
“We can sit in the classroom and say this is what you need to do in life, but the kids need to get out and actually do some of these things so they’ll always remember them.”
Becker is in her first year of teaching fourth grade after having previously taught primary grades.
Last year Becker took a year off from teaching, opting instead to travel with and work for Susan Kovalik and Associates.
“I taught teachers from across the United States about brain-compatible learning and about social action and children taking charge and being responsible citizens,” she said. “But I really missed working with the kids.
“My first inkling of knowing I needed to teach children about the importance of taking care of the real world and being good stewards was when Marion County had the situation with the water and the blue algae.
“It made us all realize we had to conserve water, especially when we were having to have our drinking water shipped in.”
As luck would have it, the idea of water conservation and quality control went hand in hand with a subject with which Becker was more than familiar.
“I had already written curriculum for Susan on water so this is just right up my alley,” Becker said. “I have a social action bulletin board up in my class room and it’s on water.”
Becker contacted Jeff Severin with Kansas StreamLink, a connection to stream studies teams, watershed educators, and stream stewardship projects throughout the state of Kansas for further resources on the subject.
Becker, in fact, has since been appointed to the StreamLink board in Topeka as a teacher representative.
“I’ll be able to tell them how to match up our ideas so they match up with the state bench marks and objectives for our science curriculum,” she said.
Becker said her efforts to educate the students about conservation have been simplified by the willingness of her fellow fourth-grade teachers, Linda Allison and Laura Baldwin, to participate in the program so all fourth graders could benefit.
Becker explained that once a month on early release day in Marion, the fourth-graders spend the time on social action.
“We’ve toured the water plant to see where our water goes and exactly how that works,” she said. “The kids had to understand how to do research so they saw that just 1 percent out of a hundred is our fresh water in the world, and how we need to conserve.”
Becker said her students also learned about and understand the difference between point and non-point pollution with the help of Neil Whittaker, Project Ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Mr. Whittaker gave an absolute great presentation,” Becker said.
Some of Becker’s ideas and activities have come courtesy of training she received in Wichita.
“Jeff Severin taught a class at the Kansas Nature Center and was really a big help,” she said. “We went out and did kick netting.”
Kick netting, Becker said, consists of dragging a net through a stream or body of water and analyzing the results.
Becker’s fourth-graders were able to actually participate in kick netting on Luta Creek at Marion.
“We looked at the vegetation and why it grows here, why nature needs it to grow here, and how it’s used for water filtering,” she said. “We also looked at the PH of the water, the oxygen levels, and did a test of the surface water and the base water.”
Becker said the results provided a pleasing surprise.
“We did a hypothesis on the water thinking it would be polluted, but it wasn’t so we were very happy about that.”
Becker said many other additional projects have been performed by her students.
“We’ve integrated children’s literature books and of course math and sciences,” she said. “Now we’re working on letter writing so we can have the proper format of persuasive writing pieces so we can write letters to persuade everyone else to start conserving water.”
Another project to illustrate the impact of water pollution came with the aid of a rubber fish.
“We had a huge jar and a little rubber fish on an invisible string,” she said. “We’d pour something to represent chemicals into the water and the more we poured in, the less you could see the fish until you couldn’t see it at all.
“That really had an impact on the kids as far as how water pollution affects the habitat of the fish and our drinking supply.”
Becker said her students have also learned the role farmers play in the overall preservation of our natural resources.
“Farmers are probably some of our very best conservationists and are very sensitive to our land,” she said. “I know farmers are blamed for a lot of water pollution, but city people put just as many contaminants in our water supply as farmers do.”
Becker said numerous projects are still on the board for her students.
“We hope to do a storm drain project where we’ll stencil storm drains to remind people not to pour oil or liquid fertilizers down the drain because it all goes into our water supply.”
Becker hopes to have her students interview area businesses to find out the effect of last summer’s algae problem.
“We’ll learn a lesson in economics by doing that.”
Becker said she’s proud to be recognized for her efforts.
“It is an unexpected honor and I’m very excited about the award,” she said. “It means a lot to me, but I want the direction to be that the kids are recognized for what they’re doing.”
Becker said there’s a simple reason water conservation is such an important issue for her.
“Everyone needs water and we only have one chance,” she said. “Once our natural resources are gone, we don’t get anymore.
“These kids are our future and I truly believe every child needs to know they have a purpose in life,” she added. “It’s been really neat for them to understand what they do can have a huge impact on the future of our resources.”