Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Making Waves

By Bridget Kubis Prescott, Director of Education

Today’s students are tomorrow’s future. Save The Bay understood this more than 30 years ago when our education program, lovingly referred to as Explore The Bay, was first envisioned. 

We knew that in order for Narragansett Bay to improve long-term, we needed to engage the youngest constituents in all that Narragansett Bay has to offer. Those youngsters from years ago are now making the decisions that impact the Bay today, just as the students of today will go on to make decisions that will impact our Bay and its watershed into the future. We want those decisions to be informed by and based on real-world knowledge and experiences. The creators of our education program dared to ask (and answer): What better way to impart that knowledge and provide those experiences than by giving students the chance to directly interact and connect with it…especially during the school day?

Above: Save The Bay Education Specialist GrĂ¡inne Conley
and a student from the Providence After School Alliance
seine for Bay creatures at Colt State Park. Below:
Students learn the role of plankton as the
building blocks of the Bay ecosystem in our plankton lab. 
Narragansett Bay is Rhode Island’s greatest natural resource, and Save The Bay’s educators use it as our classroom and natural laboratory every single day in partnership with local schools. We work closely with teachers to create a program that directly connects to their classroom curriculum, as well as state and national science standards. Our education vessels, technology, lab equipment, and Exploration Center and Aquarium give students authentic experiences through hands-on learning—core to the practice of environmental education and inherent in our education philosophy at Save The Bay. 

More than 15,000 students and hundreds of teachers work with us each year. There simply is no comparison between a student’s response to passive, old-school lecturing and the response we see from students in nature, challenged to use scientific instruments and the power of observation to unlock meaningful answers to questions about the world around them. Just as a talented classroom teacher energizes students with engaging, interactive activities, our education staff uses the natural classroom of our Bay and its watershed to guide students to new learning destinations. These types of experiences are essential in shaping the things we care about as adults. 

Although Narragansett Bay lies in Rhode Island, 60 percent of its watershed is in Massachusetts. Fall River, Mass. is the second largest city on Narragansett Bay, and the Taunton River is the largest freshwater input into our Bay. The fact is: the people of Massachusetts, even those who live miles and miles away from a waterfront view, will have either a positive or a negative impact on the health of Narragansett Bay. That’s why Save The Bay’s education team continues to renew and refresh its vision for Explore The Bay.

Today, we are making a deliberate effort to take our education programs to the students and teachers of Fall River and the Taunton River watershed over the coming years. Already, we’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm from Fall River education leaders and teachers about adding Save The Bay’s education program as a companion piece to their classroom curriculum. This past spring, we hosted students from The Resiliency High School who explored Narragansett Bay with us aboard our education vessel M/V Elizabeth Morris. Our trial of public seal tours in Fall River last spring were so successful that we are offering two full months of Fall River seal tours in March and April 2016. 

We hope this enthusiasm and excitement continues to thrive as we introduce more local students and families to the wonders of Narragansett Bay. After all, today’s youngsters will determine the health of our Bay and surrounding waters for generations to come.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bringing the Paris Talks home: Climate Mitigation in Rhode Island

By Kati Maginel, Education Specialist/Captain

Back in December, we heard from Rachel Calabro about the Paris Climate talks. While global scale agreements are important to keep up with and essential, it’s difficult for me to feel hopeful and connected when Paris seems so far away and my voice and individual actions seem so small.

The good news is that there is climate change mitigation happening right now, in every town and city of Rhode Island! By taking part in community, city or statewide efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, you can help protect the people and places of Rhode Island from the harm that our ecosystems face due to climate change. Here are some things you can tap into, right now, alongside your neighbors.

Students use a globe and blanket to demonstrate the
basic mechanism behind climate change: 
when humans burn fossil fuel, we take carbon
in the form of oil and gas and turn it into
rampant carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This excess carbon
dioxide works like a heat trapping blanket, holding too much
of the sun’s heat into our atmosphere.
Go Solar- Our state has the potential to produce more than twice as much electricity from solar power than the state consumes each year. Cities and towns across Rhode Island are banding together to incentivize solar power.  Join your neighbors today to reduce the cost of installation. 

Drive ElectricElectric cars are almost five times more efficient than gasoline cars, and emit far less carbon, even when charged from the electric grid. They have no tailpipe emissions and produce 80% less heat than a conventional car, reducing the summer heat island effect in cities. Rhode Island is now offering a generous rebate for both electric and hybrid cars. Join the fleet!

Green your home, school and community centers- Did you know that our region has a cutting edge program on energy efficiency?  And that you qualify to participate? Install energy efficient lighting and use National Grid’s programs for audits and upgrades to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to heat and power buildings. Apply for a renewable energy grant

Take part in Meatless Mondays- 100’s of Rhode Islanders cook vegetarian recipes posted on Mondays in the Providence Journal. Eating lower on the food chain means less forests cleared for grazing and less petroleum based fertilizer used to grow feed.

Join or Start a Walking School Bus- Schools in Providence, Newport and Pawtucket have started a walking school bus program, and you can too! Train adults to take turns as the “bus driver” and walk your neighborhood of kids to their school together.

Students further demonstrate the cause and 
solutions for climate change.
Support policy initiatives- Register to vote, read up on local elections, learn about issues on the ballot and petition for the change you wish to see. Learn more about the Energize Rhode Island bill, which will put a price on carbon and level the playing field for renewable energy in our state. 

Over 50% of excess carbon dioxide in our
atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, changing
the pH and leading to more acidic waters. Students
made mini models of this process, allowing
younger children to experiment with the effects
of acidic substances on shells.
Another way to find hope against the “gloom and doom” is to look into voices of change from our youth. Last summer, we trained 15 teachers from Providence Schools as part of their Professional Development week for Project Narragansett. They practiced teaching language, techniques and curriculum for meeting Next Generation Science Standards on climate change. 

The session was thought provoking and extremely helpful for the teachers, and a third of those teachers enrolled their students in our climate program as part of their field trips.  Usually our climate change program takes the back burner to live animals and shoreline explorations; I took this as a good sign! Indeed we were delighted to find that not only was the training thoroughly absorbed by the teachers, but the information, urgency and solution-based approach has trickled down to the students in short time. During the Project Narragansett Teachers in Action Showcase last week, many of the exhibits put together by the students incorporated or focused on climate change. I have inset photos in this blog that were some of my favorite examples. 

I am confident that an educated populous will begin the cultural and societal shift needed to protect and preserve the ecosystems upon which we rely. It’s daunting, it’s huge and it’s uncharted territory, but Rhode Islanders are innovative and willing to take responsibility for the future of our natural resources.  Look how far we’ve come with the health of the Bay so far. Let’s join our efforts to protect our state for future generations!