Some of the 90 middle-school students who participated in the seven-week watershed education program in Milwaukee. Photo: Deidre Peroff / Wisconsin Sea Grant
Watershed Program Journeys Into New Territory
Deidre Peroff, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s social scientist, helped evaluate a summer program designed to connect middle-school children in Milwaukee with their Lake Michigan watershed. Journeys Into the Watershed – Making Connections, was led by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and left a number of “firsts” on national and local levels in its wake.
Funded by a grant through the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, the program is the first effort to link National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration programs with local Community Learning Centers supported by the U.S. Department of Education.
On the local level, the watershed program marked the first time the MMSD had worked with Community Learning Centers in Milwaukee. In addition to Wisconsin Sea Grant, other program partners included Wehr Nature Center, Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center, Urban Ecology Center, Milwaukee Public Schools Recreation Department and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences.
“We were one of 17 entities in the country to receive grants from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to pilot this new program,” said Kate Morgan, outreach program coordinator for MMSD.
The MMSD worked with two of Milwaukee Public School District’s community learning centers, offering a seven-week experience for 90 students and about 10 staff members to explore their local watershed using new tools and technology to determine the health of the environment. They visited wetlands, a river and the shores of Lake Michigan. They also visited MMSD facilities to learn about the wastewater treatment process.
Morgan sought out Peroff because she knew of Peroff’s evaluation expertise and interest in environmental education.
Peroff assessed the pre- and post-program knowledge and attitudes of both students and teachers through surveys. But she also went above and beyond the normal call of duty.
“I tried to go at least once a week to help out with the field trips and learn about the partners,” Peroff said. “I wanted to see what the students were learning so that I could better judge their changes in attitude and knowledge.”
The biggest change she found was in knowledge about the watershed, which changed 100 percent for both the students and the educators. They could now successfully answer questions about what kinds of animals live in the water, what kinds of technology can be used to test the health of the water and whether they live in a watershed.
“They were really surprised that they drink water that comes out of Lake Michigan. They didn’t know that before,” Peroff said.
Morgan would like to do more summer programming. “The kids were excited to participate and use the tools and technology that we brought to the program,” she said. “We became very close with these kids and they with us. We not only delivered an engaging program, we developed relationships. In that way, it was also a success.”