by Mary Kay Wagner, Project WET Nevada Coordinator
Lake Tahoe has new protectors in 50 Nevada sixth graders. Students from Riverview Elementary School in Dayton, located near the Nevada-California border and Lake Tahoe, spent four October days with Great Basin Outdoor School on the lake shore learning local science and volunteering on a conservation project to help keep Tahoe blue. Studying water ecology aboard a Tahoe research boat and dip netting for aquatic macroinvertebrates were highlights. Some students had never seen Lake Tahoe before and most had not been on a boat on Tahoe. After the experience, over 90 percent of students said that they are more interested in science, have gained leadership skills and self confidence and believe that what they do is important and makes a difference. And they did make a difference: They worked to protect Tahoe’s famous clarity by installing plants on an erosion-prone bank to reduce sediment entering the lake.
Aboard the research boat, students viewed plankton, learned to measure water clarity and heard about invasive species. During a hike around Spooner Lake, students were excited to see wildlife and to sample the water for aquatic macroinvertebrates. Back at the camp, students observed and tested properties of minerals and learned local geology. When asked the most important things they learned, they provided a wide variety of responses:
- The environment is important so we should protect it.
- I understand better how to keep our watershed clean.
- Lake Tahoe has invasive species.
- You can see 54 feet under Lake Tahoe’s water!
In answer to what the most important things they learned about themselves were, students said:
- I am smarter than I thought!
- I can learn new things by going outside.
- I am really good at hiking.
- I didn’t know I could learn so many new things!
Riverview teachers Donna Anderson and Danielle Schwiesow said they appreciated the hands-on lessons for their students and the opportunities for them to gain independence, work cooperatively and learn about environmental issues so much that they are already planning to share the Great Basin Outdoor School science camp with their sixth grade classes next school year.
Great Basin Outdoor School is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has been offering field studies on the shore of Lake Tahoe for sixteen years. In addition to the four-day spring and fall science camps, they also offer day trips and classroom presentations. Students can snowshoe and learn about the Sierra snowpack in the winter, and teachers get professional development training in the summer. Project WET partner in Nevada the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection as well as the Nevada Division of Forestry, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others provide support to keep student fees below actual cost and to promote protection of water quality and reduction of fire danger. Learn more at their website.