Educators Explore Pathogen Pollution in Our Waters

Project educators measure air temperature at the sampling site on Weeks Bay.

In 2019, 4-H Alabama Water Watch received funding through the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration’s Bays and Watershed Education Training Program (NOAA B-WET) to support the 4-H AWW Project, Exploring and Mitigating Pathogen Pollution in Our Waters.

This support allowed AWW to develop new curriculum and training to prepare educators to engage students in coastal counties of Alabama with Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) that are focused on understanding, detecting, and mitigating pathogen pollution in local waters. MWEEs are an important part of the NOAA B-Wet Program. Teachers and students who participate in the project will become certified AWW Bacteriological Monitors. They will collect data from local sites, and will submit it to the AWW database. This water data will be useful for identifying potential pathogen pollution throughout the area.

The curriculum, Exploring Pathogen Pollution in Our Waters (EOW), was developed as a companion guide to the existing AWW Bacteriological Monitoring Manual. The curriculum introduces participants to the 4-H Alabama Water Watch Program and the NOAA BWET concept of the MWEE.  EOW has a flexible design to accommodate the unique needs and teaching styles of educators. It can be used in various educational environments including formal classrooms, after-school programs, and clubs.

Curriculum Front Cover

There are nine Lessons in the curriculum that present concepts for learning related to the water environment, pathogen pollution, bacteriological monitoring, data analysis, and watershed stewardship through hands-on, and when possible, outdoor learning.

The Curriculum is correlated to the 2015 Alabama Course of Study (ACOS) Science Standards for grades 4 – 7 and high school subjects of Environmental Science and Biology and the ACOS Career and Technical Education Standards for the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Cluster, for which AWW is a State-Approved Stackable Credential.

After some COVID delays, AWW Staff were ecstatic to FINALLY be able to train the first cohort of educators. This professional development training looked quite different from previous 4-H AWW Educator trainings as it was hybrid and put AWW’s brand new Online Bacteriological Monitoring Course to work.

On June 2nd, a group of 15 educators joined AWW, Alabama 4-H, and partners at the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), for a project Kick-Off Zoom. Following the Zoom session, educators completed the self-paced online course that provided them with background on the AWW Program, the water environment, water pollution, water quality standards, bacteria basics, and how to conduct bacteriological tests to determine if E.coli is present in water.

Around a week later, the educators jumped back on Zoom to demonstrate to AWW Staff that they could correctly perform each step of the bacteriological test.

The Weeks Bay NERR in Fairhope, AL was the perfect backdrop for the culmination of the professional development training: the project Field Day. On June 11th, AWW and Weeks Bay NERR Staff led a field session allowing educators to gain more experience with bacteriological monitoring as they tested the waters of Weeks Bay.

Educators collect water samples from Weeks Bay.
Once the samples have been collected, they are transported on ice back to the classroom.
Teachers learn how to pour samples and tape the Petri dishes.
AWW Staff, Carolina Ruiz, demonstrates how to operate the incubators that will be provided to educators through the project.

Educators also learned how to facilitate several of the activities that are included in the project curriculum. They discussed project logistics including how to select an appropriate sampling site for their students.  

Counting bacteria colonies on the Petri dishes is the final step in determining the tests results.
Participants learn to conduct several hands-on activities that are included in the curriculum.
The Enviroscape® watershed model can be used to teach water pollution concepts related to the project’s goal.

Weeks Bay NERR Watershed Trainer, Mike Shelton, who is also a Trainer with AWW, led the group on a tour of Weeks Bay. The tour helped to make the connection between land activities and the impact they have on water pollution.

Mike Shelton leads a boat tour of Weeks Bay.
Educators enjoy Meaningful Watershed Education Experiences too!

Project Implementation
Following completion of the Professional Development Training, educators completed Project Plans. AWW has provided educators with all of the materials they will need to conduct regular monitoring with their students throughout the school year.

At the end of the 2022 school year, educators will bring student teams to the Weeks Bay NERR to present their projects focused on bacteriological monitoring and pathogen pollution mitigation.

The educators who have chosen to be part of this project are exceptional! The participating schools are in six different counties within the BWET Project Area: Baldwin, Covington, Escambia, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington. The educators come from an array of programs and subject matters and include a Gifted Program Director for one of the counties, Environmental Science and Honors Biology , Career and Technical Education Program, and a Virtual Secondary School. During this year, nearly 1,000 students ranging from the elementary grades through high school seniors will be reached by this project. The students have meaningful and memorable watershed educational experiences focused on local waterbodies because of teachers who were willing to go the extra mile (in a very challenging time to do so!). Thank you!

We are thankful for these amazing educators!

We aim for this project to have long-term benefits statewide and beyond as 4-H AWW has plans to replicate the model throughout the state, and to continue to support participating educators. Students who participate will be empowered to take part in watershed stewardship in their local communities and ultimately make informed and responsible decisions about the environment, particularly regarding pathogen pollution of water resources.

Stay tuned for updates!