Paddle Georgia Connects Educators to Waterways, Inspiring Water Stewardship for Students and Teachers

Paddle Georgia logoAn annual week-long canoe and kayak adventure, Paddle Georgia has introduced nearly 5,000 people to more than 1,300 miles of Georgia rivers since its founding in 2005. Sponsored by the Georgia River Network, Paddle Georgia isn’t only about the paddling. The program creates life-long friendships, connects citizens to some of Georgia’s 70,150 total river miles and inspires people to protect waterways.

It has also provided environmental education training to dozens of teachers. The goal is for these educators to take their experiences on the river and the training they get back to their classrooms and communities. To encourage participation, GRN offers an Educators Scholarship Program, which affords Georgia K-12 educators the opportunity to participate in the seven-day journey and receive environmental education training during the week. Educators receiving the scholarship, which covers the trip’s registration costs, are trained to implement Project WET’s Curriculum and Activity Guide and Healthy Water, Healthy People (HWHP) as well as Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (AAS) with their students during the school year.

K-12 educators in Georgia can apply for a scholarship to participate in a seven-day kayak and canoe adventure while receiving environmental education trainingK-12 educators in Georgia can apply for a scholarship to participate in a seven-day kayak and canoe adventure while receiving environmental education training Ruth Mead is an environmental educator at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park in Augusta, GA. She first joined Paddle Georgia in 2010, helping train educators in both Project WET and AAS. She has since returned nearly every year to train educators on the trip.

“These environmental education activities help students understand the importance of a healthy and sustainable environment and act to protect and restore it,” Ruth said. “Project WET and HWHP include almost all aspects of water from the physical and chemical characteristics to water as a natural resource, water as essential for all life, water as it connects all Earth systems, water as it is managed, and more.”

Ruth doesn’t just train other teachers to use Project WET and Healthy Water Healthy People. She also uses the resources in her work: “I use activities from these curriculums in many of the field trips and homeschool programs we offer at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park,” she explained. “To be able to share these activities with others and be on a weeklong paddle is just almost too good to be true.”

Ruth sees the Educators Scholarship Program as important not only for the training it provides in Project WET and other environmental education curricula but also in the networking that the teachers do—and how that extends into their communities.

Paddle Georgia gives teachers the opportunity to be immersed in a week-long experience with other educators Paddle Georgia gives teachers the opportunity to be immersed in a week-long experience with other educators “Giving teachers the opportunity to be immersed in a week-long experience with other educators is truly making a difference,” Ruth said. “I have witnessed teachers who became totally inspired from their Paddle Georgia experience, and I know it is making a difference in their classroom. They also bring the inspiration and curriculum back to other teachers in their school system, so all students benefit.”

That has been the case for 2019 scholarship recipient Tammy Shiflett, who teaches gifted enrichment at C. A. Roberts Elementary School in the northwestern Atlanta suburb of Dallas. In addition to teaching a water unit with her third through fifth grade students, Tammy sponsors a school science club. She uses Project WET lessons as well as the other environmental education tools in the classroom and on water-related field trips.

“It has made me look at our streams and rivers in a whole new way,” Tammy said. “The relationships I've built with the teachers during the week of Paddle Georgia have been lasting and meaningful, and we still stay in touch.”

The experience also prompted her to look for ways to protect and conserve her local waterways: “I participated in a river clean up near my home with Chattahoochee River Keepers, and I'm looking for other ways to volunteer on the water,” she said.

With two colleagues, Tammy is applying to present at the Georgia Science Teachers Association Conference in Feb 2020. She hopes to share the impact of Paddle Georgia & Project WET in the classroom with other Georgia educators.

Paddle Georgia participants say the Project WET and HWHP activities they learn to do help students understand the importance of a healthy and sustainable environment and act to protect and restore itPaddle Georgia participants say the Project WET and HWHP activities they learn to do help students understand the importance of a healthy and sustainable environment and act to protect and restore it Paula Jeffers—who teaches Earth Science to sixth graders at Amana Charter Academy in the northern Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta—has also shared the experiences and lessons she learned as an Educator Scholarship recipient on the 2016 Paddle Georgia trip, even with her students’ families.

“I am using a Project WET lab activity on pH for our 6th grade expedition. Parents are invited to the school to have their students explain the scientific process around which they developed their hypothesis,” Paula said.

In the classroom, Paula focuses on teaching hands-on, student-centered lessons, some of which start with Project WET activities.

“I have been asked to create the 6th grade science lab based around aeroponics vs soil,” Paula said. “I immediately thought of my Project WET books and have begun putting together a first-of-its-kind, scaffolded lab from the Project WET training I received at Paddle Georgia.”

Paula added that her participation in Paddle Georgia has made her work easier: “I have found that it inspires and creates the place where students experience science and nature in a way that is meaningful and impactful from the classroom.”

Educators are trained to implement Project WET, HWHP and Georgia AAS with their studentsEducators are trained to implement Project WET, HWHP and Georgia AAS with their students Middle school teacher Sarah Topper was an Educator Scholarship winner in 2012 and has returned to Paddle Georgia every year since then.

“Paddle Georgia is a great trip,” Sarah said. “It's educational; I learn geography, history, natural ecology, and I learn something different each year.”

Sarah teaches science to mixed-age classes of sixth and seventh graders and math to fifth and sixth graders at High Meadows School in Roswell, north of Atlanta. She said that her training in Project WET has helped her with hands-on activities as well as experiments and experiences that teach ideas. “It is a very useful curriculum,” she said.

Getting people out on rivers helps them turn into river stewards, she added.

“I can't take everyone on the river, but I can, as a teacher, try to provide experiences that will make an impression on students,” Sarah said.

Georgia Project WET has been sponsored by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources since 1997. Monica Kilpatrick is the Georgia Coordinator. To learn more about Georgia Project WET, please visit their website. Learn more about Paddle Georgia on the Georgia River Network website

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