Technology trumps budget cuts at John Stewart

By on April 2, 2010

Students “travel” to Pennsylvania to learn about wetlands
by Susan O’Neill
KANELAND—Kaneland John Stewart fifth-grader Jake Needham said he was surprised that a wetlands only takes five years to fully form and grow.

“I thought it would take thousands of years,” he said.

On March 25, Needham was one of a roomful of fourth- and fifth-graders who were able to ask questions of a real-live environmental engineer on a topic they had been studying for some time-wetlands.

Instead of the students traveling to the conservation district to meet with the engineer or the engineer traveling to the school, Drew Wagner was with them through the use of technology.

When the budget for field trips was cut, John Stewart literacy specialist Jenny Wagner got creative about providing the students with an enriching experience without leaving the school. Her son, Drew, who works for the Monroe County Conservation District in Pennsylvania, told his mom last summer that educational visits from school groups to his agency were down from what they were just a year ago.

Drew’s desire to reach more students about the importance of caring for the wetlands and Mrs. Wagner’s desire to provide the children with a positive learning experience took shape throughout the year. It became a reality with the help of retired teacher and computer technician Bob Thayer, who arranged for the technology to bring Drew to the children via Gmail and a web cam.

Throughout the year, Mrs. Wagner’s students learned about the importance of wetlands and why erosion is so bad for the environment. They read a book called “The Everglades,” by Jean Craighhead George, conducted research and came up with nine questions to ask Drew during his virtual visit.

The students viewed Drew on a large screen as he gave a small presentation on the importance of wetlands. Sprinkled into the presentation were video clips of wetlands and the effects of erosion.

Then, when students stood to ask him questions, a small picture of each one was shown on the bottom of the screen.

From a question Noah Klosowski asked, the students learned that concerned citizens can do a few things in their daily lives to keep from hurting the wetlands, including using environmentally-friendly products when they wash their cars and refraining from littering.

When Drew finished answering the nine students who were chosen to ask the prepared questions, the crowd gave him a rousing thank-you and a standing ovation.

Needham said he was impressed that Drew took time out of his busy day to talk to the students at John Stewart about the wetlands and to answer all their questions.

“That was cool,” he said.

Photo: Kaneland John Stewart student Francesca Lassandro (left) listens as environmental engineer Drew Wagner responds to a question she posed about the importance of wetlands. Monroe County Conservation District environmental engineer Drew Wagner (right) answers a question asked by student Tony Bohanek (bottom right of screen) during an interactive session with the Pennsylvania engineer on wetlands last Thursday.
Photos by Susan O’Neill