By Joshua Blanco
RiverLink is now scheduling lessons for its RiverRATS (River Research and Appreciation Through Science) environmental education program for the 2019-2020 school year. The goal of the program is to engage students with local waterways by giving them the opportunity to act as stream ecologists in a hands-on learning environment. Thanks to charitable donations from Pigeon River Fund and Walnut Cove Members Association, all lessons are offered free of charge.
Students are provided with a set of tools for engaging with the aquatic ecosystem, including a backpack electrofisher, dissecting microscopes and an interactive stream table. “It’s different from just talking about it in the classroom,” says Emmaly Rogalski, 5th-grade teacher at Rainbow Community School in West Asheville. “It made the learning real.” Rogalski, accompanied by her students, participated in a total of five lessons. Those interested in experiencing the program for themselves have the option of choosing a lesson from a set of three focus topics: watersheds and stream anatomy, habitat and biodiversity, or water chemistry and human impact.
Since its founding in 1987, RiverLink has maintained strong ties within the community, continually striving to develop a sense of responsibility and appreciation with regard to environmental conservation and sustainability. Last year, RiverRATS allowed the local nonprofit to work with about 3,500 students from five counties across Western North Carolina.
“I personally think that’s where our environmental salvation lies,” says Rose Keyes, RiverLink database and communications coordinator. “The most important way we can start to turn things around is by educating those that are going to be the stewards of the earth once we’re gone. RiverLink is really special in that they work to actually foster direct experience with the river and I think that’s a really powerful way to get people to want to preserve something.”