MILTON, Ga. — Hopewell Middle School sixth-grade Earth science teacher Tom Sewell doesn’t limit his teaching to just stay inside the classroom and come from a textbook: he encourages students to experience science in their own backyards.
In four years, Sewell has trained over 150 student-parent pairs to test for water quality in area streams and rivers.
Because of the chemicals involved, parents are required to take the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream training alongside their middle school student.
The training happens during what Sewell calls an “overnight hiking adventure focused on chemistry.”
To become certified, student-parent pairs must work together to pass a test before they are able to check the water quality test kits out from the school’s front office to test water and record their findings.
“The parents are just so excited,” Sewell said. “It’s been extremely successful.”
Once certified, students can enter their findings into an online database hosted by the state of Georgia.
“This is not just pretend kind of science; this is real science,” Sewell said. “We hope this engages them over the rest of their lives.”
The two-day training retreat takes places about three times each year at the Hike Inn and Amicalola Falls. Right now, 60 Hopewell Middle School students and about 60 parents have been certified.
Derek Bachan and his daughter Maya recently became certified. Three years ago, Bachan completed the training with his son Stu, who is now a sophomore in high school.
“Now she can do it herself and do the testing,” Bachan said. “We have a stream in our neighborhood and we monitor the water quality [and] bacteria levels.”
Stu Bachan used the event to log community service hours for Junior Beta Club.
The kits have supplies for measuring air and water quality, pH and dissolved oxygen levels and conductivity in about 30 minutes. If the results are tracked from the same place over time, a change in data signals to the student to determine if there was an error in the experiment or if the environment has been somehow modified since the last water test. Students apply the scientific method, which Sewell must teach his students.
“It’s a real-life hands-on experience,” Bachan said. “I think kids learn better from it.”
Sewell was recently awarded a $450 grant from the Fulton County Supporters of the Gifted.
“Our criteria is simple,” said Ed Svitil, the organization’s president. “[The kits] can be used over and over again over many years. We try to maximize the funding for the teachers to reach as many students as possible.”
Sewell has also been awarded a grant of $1,400 from the Earth Savers Club, a program administered by Greening Forward and funded by State Farm Youth Advisory Board and Wells Fargo.
“We’re one of 10 funded locations in the U.S. this year,” Sewell said.
The school’s PTA has also contributed funds to the project. Currently, Hopewell Middle School has eight kits; each one costs $300.
Sewell sees the testing as not only a way for his students to conduct real-world science experiments but also spend time with their parents.
“It gives the parents something to do with their children that’s academic, but not threatening,” Sewell said. “You can do something that’s real science and benefits the environment.”