This spring, educators from the Southern Nevada Agency Partnership have joined with Ash Meadows staff to provide the Refuge’s 5th season of Ed-Ventures programming. Ash Meadows Ed-Ventures is an environmental education program for 3rd grade students in Nye County – a highly underserved area. While meeting important cross-curricular standards, the program also strives to foster an appreciation for Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and its precious water resources in the desert. The hope is that the Ed-Ventures experience will someday translate into a sense of pride and stewardship for their communities and public lands in southern Nevada.
New this year, the Ed-Ventures program is focusing on Ash Meadows’ number one resource: its wetlands. With over 50 natural seeps and springs, Ash Meadows is an incredible outdoor classroom. During the month of March, the Ed-Ventures team delivered programs at 11 elementary schools in Amargosa Valley, Beatty, Pahrump, and Shoshone – reaching a total of 515 students. Through 2 fun-packed hours of interactive games, dramatization, and even a little singing, students were introduced to the wetland habitats at Ash Meadows, and the incredible diversity of creatures that live there. Students created group skits to explain the life cycle of several aquatic invertebrates – mayflies, caddisflies, dragonflies, and riffle beetles – and were surprised to discover that these insects spend part, or all, of their life underwater. Then they played the “metamorphosis rock-paper-scissors game” and learned that, just like the game, life cycles never end!
In April, the students will go on field trips to Ash Meadows. The students will become stream biologists to study the habitat quality for pupfish and other aquatic critters. They will measure and graph the pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature of the water and discuss how that translates into suitable or unsuitable conditions for various organisms. Using a plankton net, students will explore the bottom of the food chain in living color under microscopes. They will then move up the food chain to the organisms that eat plankton: aquatic invertebrates. After taking an invertebrate sample from the stream, students will identify the species, and count the number of individuals. This data will be used to provide baseline food web information for FWS biologist Darrick Weissenfluh as part of his endangered Ash Meadows naucorid research. Aside from assisting with real-life research on endangered species, watching squirming damselfly larvae, endemic spring snails, scuds, and slimy planaria is loads of fun!
Also new this year, Ash Meadows is offering an Environmental Education Internship as an opportunity for local high school students to further explore careers in the sciences, gain real work experience, and give back to their own community. A major responsibility of the interns will be to help lead activities during the Ed-Ventures field trips. After reviewing their résumés, letters of recommendation, and interview responses, two exemplary students from Death Valley Academy, Erik Carney and Amber Leikam, were selected. Erik and Amber, along with the SNAP education team, participated in four full days of training, covering the history and ecology of the Refuge, best practice teaching methods, the peer evaluation process, and goal-setting. They are well-prepared to assist with the field trips this April and are eager to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with the 3rd graders they meet! A special thanks to the principal of Death Valley School District, Craig Hill, for his visionary thinking and support of this new internship program.
The Ed-Ventures program is made possible through a partnership with the Death Valley Natural History Association, the Southern Nye County Conservation District, the Great Basin Institute, SNAP, and Death Valley Academy. These groups provide funds for school buses, teaching supplies, incredible staff, and more. A big thanks to all of the truly dedicated and passionate individuals who make this happen!
Field trips run from 9am-1:30pm at the Point of Rocks boardwalk and are scheduled for the following days in April: 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21. All FWS staff are invited to come join in and see for yourself what all the splash is about this spring at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge!
– Alyson Mack, Great Basin Institute Environmental Education & Outreach Specialist