10th Annual Environmental Education Day gets high schoolers out of the classroom, learning in nature

10th Annual Environmental Education Day gets high schoolers out of the classroom, learning in nature

Photo: Scotty Sorrells, a geologist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, talks to high schoolers about the ways that the state’s geology affects groundwater.


Brentwood’s Deerwood Arboretum and Nature Center turned into a huge, open air classroom for hundreds of high school students Wednesday as part of the city’s 10th Annual Environmental Education Day.

AP Environmental Science students from both Brentwood High School and Ravenwood High School circulated among 10 different stations occupied by experts who explained and demonstrated some of the scientific concepts underlying their work.

The common theme of the day was water. Professionals from environmental consulting firms, erosion control firms and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, just to name a few, gave presentations on such topics as how water is measured, how it is purified and how it is protected.

Brentwood High School’s AP Environmental Science teacher Doug Anderson said that Wednesday’s event gave his students something they cannot get just sitting in a classroom.

Environmental Education Day is “such a good amazing hands on experience for our students because these are professionals in the field that are presenting on things I talk about in class every day,” he said. “There’s no substitute for the realness that they get from these experiences out here.”

His counterpart at Ravenwood High School, AP Environmental Science Teacher Lianne Haviland, stressed how the sheer enjoyability of the day can serve as a good learning tool for students.

“It’s such a fun day for the kids,” she said. “They love it.”

The event started a decade ago as an outgrowth of the city’s stormwater quality management program.

“The stormwater program is designed to protect the rivers and streams…and ensure that the runoff from developments and homes and businesses and everything doesn’t contaminate the rivers and streams,” City of Brentwood Director of Engineering Mike Harris said. “That’s the whole point. Part of our program is public education.”

In this way, the Environmental Education Day serves as a “win win” for the city and local high schools. The city utilizes the event as part of its public education efforts and the high schools use the event as part of their curriculum.

In both cases, local students and the environment stand to benefit.

“As the kids are more aware of what they do in everyday life and how the things we do in everyday life affect the quality of the water in the rivers and the streams, the more aware they are and the more likelihood they’ll be stewards of the environment,” he said.

Anderson was likewise enthusiastic about the program’s potential.

“This is as good a community educational event as you can get,” he said.

On Wednesday, about 210 students from Brentwood High School and about 80 students from Ravenwood High School came out to Deerwood Arboretum, Anderson said.

They saw experts venture into the Little Harpeth River to measure the river’s depth and flow. They saw examples of animal life in Tennessee’s rivers and streams on both a microscopic and visible-to-the-naked-eye level. They learned of the everyday applications of some of the minerals present in water, and they learned what goes into making water from places like the Cumberland River safe to drink.

Kevin Colvett and Andy Cole from CH2M, an engineering firm, were in charge of explaining that last topic.

Colvett took some brackish water from a pond at the arboretum and challenged students to make a filter for the water using the common tools of the trade: mainly sand and gravel.

Colvett explained some of the work he has done in countries like Congo, Chad and Niger. If students only took one thing from his presentation, he told a group of Ravenwood high schoolers, he wanted that to be an understanding of how fortunate they were to have easy access to safe drinking water.

“Every time you turn on the faucet, water comes out,” he said. “Every time you turn on the faucet and stick your water bottle under there you can drink that water and don’t think a second thought about it. It’s always there. It’s always safe… Just remember it’s not like that in much of the rest of the world. It’s not like that in many parts of the world where people can just turn a knob and clean, healthy water comes out. Today, every day, 6,000 people die because they drink contaminated water.”

The presentation stuck with Brentwood High School Senior Cameron Johantges. Along with meeting Pemberton, the Great Horned Owl brought by the Discovery Center from Murfreesboro, Johantges cited the filtration presentation as a highlight.

“It was cool learning how water filtration works,” Johantges said. “They just use sand and rocks. That was really interesting.”

Ravenwood High School Senior Kendall Kitahara also highlighted the water filtration lesson when asked about the day’s events. She also, though, brought up a more general topic. Rather than any one subject, she said she just really enjoyed the passion of all the professionals who spoke to students that day.

“I just liked how each person at each station was really engaging and actually enjoyed what they did,” she said. “I think that’s a great thing I took from this today and I learned a lot.”

From left, Ravenwood High School students Lauren Shepard, Alex Rosen and Elise Strevell look on as Kevin Colvett and Andy Cole of CH2M test the water filters they made.
Discovery Center at Murfree Spring education and animal care specialist Shelly Denton introduces students to Mazie, a corn snake.
An employee at Civil & Environmental Consultants
stands in the Little Harpeth River demonstrating for students how to measure the depth and flow of the river.

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