Floating classroom

Local educators take class to the river

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Steffan Little, of the Lycoming College Clean Water Institute, works with Victor Hosler, 2, and Rosa Hosler, behind, 4, on testing water samples during the floating classroom program with Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association Inc., Lycoming College Clean Water Institute and Bucknell Center for Sustainability and the Environment on the Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat out of Williamsport recently. The five floating classroom series take place once a month and can be found at www.RideHiawatha.com for more information.

In an effort to help bring awareness to the local watersheds, the Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat turned into a floating classroom to help educate children as they cruised around the Susquehanna River out of Williamsport recently.

The classroom takes place once a month through September to give a chance for children of all ages to learn something about the environment. In July, the theme was “Healthy Tributaries for a Healthy River.” Children brought in water samples from their local creeks and streams to test their local water’s quality.

“We’re out once a month, the second Tuesday of each month, offering educational programs related to the river for families,” said Carol Parenzan, Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association Inc. “Our next one will be in August, and we’ll focus on mapping. In September, we’re going to turn the boat into a floating art studio.”

Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association Inc., Lycoming College Clean Water Institute, Bucknell Center for Sustainability and the Environment and Lycoming County Conservation District officials set up stations inside the Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat for children to explore different ideas revolving around water and testing water samples.

From checking pH balance, to learning about what makes water safe to drink, to discovering freshwater mussels that filter local waterways, children got to explore the classroom all while cruising down the Susquehanna River.

“We need to find ways to connect people to the river, and we need to find ways to connect people to the environment,” Parenzan said. “Connection leads to

caring, and I look for ways to connect people … By offering different science, history and arts, we give people different opportunities to fall in love with this river.”

She said it’s family friendly for all to attend.

“We are a home schooling family, and this is our first field trip,” said Olga Hosler, of Stillwater. “We thought this would be interesting because we have a stream going through our property, and we have a pond. I thought it would be an opportunity for us to learn more about what our water is like, and it’s directly outside of our home.”

She said she wanted her children to learn about the water on their property as well as the environment together.

“We have never been to something like this, and learning how tests can indicate and show you things about water,” she said. “I think it’s been very interesting for them to do.”

Dr. Melvin Zimmerman, director of the Lycoming College Clean Water Institute said, “The children can bring in water samples from their well in their rural area, stream in their backyard or neighborhood, or wherever. … We’re giving preliminary tests where we’re indicating nitrogen and phosphorus levels.”

He said they also were testing the Susquehanna River samples as they were riding for children to compare with their water samples.

“We’re featuring water quality. Last month, we featured indicators of water quality using macroinvertebrates, thi­ngs like crayf­ish and such,” he said. “We have a sheet to tell them what is clean water, so if something spikes, they may want to get their water tested.”

Carey Entz-Rine, of the county conservation district, said it’s important for everyone to learn about water quality.

“We all drink water, so that’s the most important reason,” she said. “Having a connection to our rivers and our streams always starts young. I know that’s when my connection started.”

She said the basic chemistry to test water helped them understand the water around their lives.

“Some of them brought samples from local parks and some of them didn’t even know the names of the streams near their homes, but they know it’s their neighborhood,” she said. “They’ll see how clean the water is … and I hope they get a connection through doing this. By bringing the water from those little tributaries and bringing the water out here on the Susquehanna, I think that’s pretty cool to understand. It may be a connection for them itself.”

Sean Reese, biologist with Bucknell University, said they set up two tanks with mussels for the children to learn how mussels filter water.

“We’re trying to demonstrate the filtration capacity of mussels. They’re nature’s filter. Your fish tank has a filter, and that’s what these mussels do,” he said. “We’re trying to show the importance of mussels … We’re showing how nature improves water quality.”

He said it was important to educate people on the vital roles mussels play in the river ecosystem.

“A lot of people live along these rivers and streams their entire life, and they might not realize that it’s full of fresh water mussels and why they’re important,” he said. “As a taxa of animals, fresh water mussels is one of the most endangered taxon of animals in the world. It’s important to preserve these.”

He said the mussels help clean the water, so it’s important to keep them safe whenever possible.

“Also economically, we won’t have to invest as much money in cleaner water treatments if we have cleaner water coming in because of the mussels,” he said.

By learning what mussels are and what they do for the environment, children can make an effort to preserve them.

“If they’re playing in a river or stream, they’re not just going to pull a mussel out and throw it on the banks. They can practice conservation,” he said. “They can be a little bit more conscious of their environment around them and little ways to improve water quality.”

For more information bout upcoming floating classroom dates and tickets, visit www.ridehi awatha.com.

As there is a limited capacity of people allowed on the boat, tickets are recommended in advance.