Inspired by nature
Charter high schoolers team up for streams
It was cold, windy and wet on the morning of April 10, but that didn’t faze about 80 Inspire High School students who braved the weather to learn first-hand about stream health and water quality.
Bundled in warm jackets, the students made the outdoors their classroom as they worked near the Bidwell Bowl Amphitheater along Big Chico Creek on the Chico State campus. Cycling in groups through six stations, they studied invasive-plant species, learned about urban runoff, calculated stream flow, inspected aquatic insects, and encountered other components of stream-health measurement and evaluation.
The event was part of a larger unit of study provided to Inspire students by the California Urban Streams Alliance–The Stream Team, which facilitates a Youth Stream Team program in local schools. The Stream Team was established in 2004 by Chico biologist Timmarie Hamill to offer watershed and urban-pollution-prevention education to complement local and regional watershed management strategies for achieving natural resource goals.
The Stream Team works from the premise that, “If people are the problem, then they must certainly be part of the solution,” Hamill said. It uses “a multi-pronged approach” that includes engaging community members in citizen-monitoring efforts, compiling and analyzing collected water-quality data, and providing information and education to promote understanding and community action related to watershed health.
Before the event at the creek, Hamill had visited and shared information with students in teacher Malina Olson’s three Integrated Science classes at Inspire, a charter school housed on the Chico High School campus. Olson said her students “really responded to it [the Youth Stream Team event] and that she’s realized that “water and water quality have become a natural thread for this class.” She’s eager, she said, to expand the Youth Stream Team at her school next year.
At one of the stations, 15-year-old freshman Tesla Coyl, said it was interesting to learn how stream health and water quality is affected by humans. She also liked learning how invasive-plant and -animal species can harm the ecosystem.
Along with the several other Stream Team volunteering professionals, aquatic entomologist Dan Pickard—who runs the California Department of Fish and Game Bio-Assessment Lab—assisted students in their learning. Facilitating the invertebrate station, which included water-filled trays of aquatic insects, he told students the mayflies, stone flies, and caddis flies in a stream are indicators of the stream’s health—or lack of it. Larval aquatic insects spend most of their life cycle in the creek and therefore can “tell” humans a lot about the quality of the water and stream habitat.
Holding up a large stone fly, he explained how she’d crawled out of her exoskeleton, unfurled her wings, and flown away—to find a mate. “The adult lives only a couple weeks, then dies,” he said. Noting the The Stream Team is local, he said it’s “really important to see what is happening with our local water.”
Freshman Austin Bower, 14, said his favorite station was Pickard’s, which he described as “hands on.” He explained he’s visually impaired and can usually “hardly tell a fly from a bee.” At Pickard’s station, however, he experienced a large stone fly (a few inches long) crawling up his arm. “It was very entertaining,” he said, “and it was amazing how big it was.”
The Stream Team is seeking new funding sources so it can continue its important work, including local support for Youth Stream Team efforts. To date, Hamill said, it has facilitated more than 30,000 hours of community service, thanks to the dedication of thousands of community volunteers.