How I Use Project WET: Engaging At-Risk Students in Science and the Community

Lacey WesterbyLacey Westerby, Nebraska Project WET Coordinator Lacey Westerby is a Nebraska native who grew up in a rural community sustained by agriculture. The great outdoors were always a part of her life and instilled a great passion for nature early on. Lacey graduated with a Secondary Education degree from Chadron State College and taught Environmental Science in one of Nebraska’s most diverse high schools for five years before transitioning to her current role as Conservation Education Coordinator with the Nebraska Forest Service. In a recent interview for the Project WET USA Coordinator Newsletter, Lacey Westerby described her experiences using Project WET in that diverse high school. As she prepares to leave the USA network for a family move to Texas, we wanted to share her inspiring story of how environmental education helped her get students who were sometimes disengaged from school involved and excited about not only coming to school but also sharing their knowledge with others. Good luck in Texas, Lacey!

Here's Lacey's story, in her own words:

I used to teach Environmental Science at the high school level at one of Nebraska’s most diverse high schools. Environmental Science just so happened to be the ‘dropping ground’ science class for seniors who needed to pass a science class to graduate. I had students from all walks of life, but generally, most without much passion or drive to succeed—let alone to care about the environment. I made it my mission to connect these kids somehow to the world around them so that by the end of the year they could be environmentally aware citizens.

Lacey's class was covered in the local newspaper, The IndependentLacey's class was covered in the local newspaper, The Grand Island Independent

We did a lot of hands-on activities—I utilized all three Projects [Project WET, Project WILD, Project Learning Tree] in my course immensely. We did case studies and debates, current events reporting, and major projects to get the students involved in the topics and begin to take ownership on several topics.

The city I taught in also happened to host an annual Groundwater Festival for area 4th and 5th graders. It has been around forever—I even went to it in middle school, and I remember it being so much fun and probably one of the many reasons I was drawn to science. I learned that though the festival had always been in this city, very few of my local students had ever attended the festival. I wanted to find a way to connect them to this event and this personal connection to the water around us (or below us in this case.

After partnering with the organizers, all of my students would design hands-on activities to teach 4th and 5th graders the importance of groundwater and the best project would be selected from each course to actually be presented as a classroom activity at the Groundwater Festival—with my students being the teachers. That first year we relied on the Project WET Guide as a saving grace for developing the activities we taught. Each year my students wanted to "up" the last year’s activity, but we always used the Project WET Guide as our reference—to judge all other activities by.

My students really took off with their own ideas from there and each year the ideas became more outstanding! It was the highlight of my teaching career to see what my students could come up with and then see them come full circle event from students with little to no knowledge of the environment (or care for that matter) to then be teaching a younger generation about such an important topic as groundwater!

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