This is one of the ways we engage youth

(Editor's Note: OWC hired an Applied Studies student last fall to work with students Grades 7-12. Kelsey Cartwright tells us about her experience mentoring 3 of the 10 top proposals for the "Caring For Our Watersheds" program. The students' innovative environmental proposals will be presented June 1st on Green Day at Blackie School.)

I spent the 2014/2015 school year as the OWC's Applied Studies student - and was it ever a great learning experience! 

After I was offered the position of Environmental Educator last fall, my first task was to familiarize myself with Agrium's program "Caring For Our Watersheds", as my primary role was to promote the program and engage students in the Oldman Watershed in environmental education. 

The program asks students in Grades 7-12 to identify an environmental concern in their watershed and submit a written proposal outlining a solution that is judged for: feasibility, budget, environmental impact and presentation. If a proposal makes it to the top ten in their region (i.e. Southern Alberta), students are eligible for a cash prize, with a matching reward going to their school or club as well as implementation money for their project.

Placing in the top ten is an excellent achievement, but we aimed to educate youth with a winning proposal being seen as a bonus. To make sure I was well versed in all things Oldman, I wrote a thirty-page paper highlighting the ecology as well as water and land use of the Oldman Watershed. The paper was a starting point for the presentation I put together to use as a youth educational tool. 

Thirty to sixty minutes is a long time for students to listen to a presentation, so it was made to be interactive with a lot of questions, personal stories and props like this:

he carpet was a great way to start the presentation and illustrate my points as I explained what a watershed was. You'll see that direction is based on the flow of water instead of being oriented North/South. Younger kids really enjoyed "walking their watershed" and to demonstrate scale, we pretended we were tubing from the headwaters at the Beehive Natural Area to Hudson Bay! Once we reached our endpoint, we would have been tubing for months and many students thoroughly understood the concept of the downstream effects of our activities with this exercise.

I designed the presentation as a tour through the Watershed by sub-basin. The Oldman Watershed is very diverse, so going through some basic ecology of each sub basin and its land uses seemed like a good way to demonstrate the concept of diversity. With some background ecology and land use information, it was easier for students to understand how water use and water quality varies throughout our watershed as well as identify environmental issues.

am discussing the Prairie sub-basin in the above photo, which was taken at the Southwestern Alberta Teacher's Convention in February. We needed a way to reach out to more teachers and learn how to make youth education work for them; this event was a great chance to do so. A teacher from Vauxhall High School requested a classroom presentation as soon as the one I gave was over!

Below are participants in the Helen Schuler Nature Center's winter program "Extreme By Nature." This was the keenest group I presented to and they were full of questions. Their enthusiasm made for a super fun day!

he Southern Alberta Caring For Our Watersheds finals were held at Ralph Klein Park in Calgary in late April. Out of 148 entries, three of the top ten proposals were from the Oldman Watershed! 

Two groups and one solo project placed 4th, 8th and 10th with ideas for Microbeads, Light Pollution and Composting. 

The Microbead project, which came in 4th, by Nicholas Locken and Brayden Brausse, involves using implementation money to hire a videographer so they can bring awareness to a little known environmental issue. By using plastic alternatives such as walnut or apricot shells in daily items such as dish soap or facial scrubs, they see a way to reduce the amount of micro-sized plastics that are entering out waterways and being consumed by aquatic organisms.


Riley Terkaylo came in 8th and he suggests lamp covers to reduce upward scattering of light that interrupts bird and bat migration. He also made interesting points as to how light pollution affects human health. Riley will be promoting LED bulb use as well so it's a double whammy; energy conservation and decreasing some of the negative impacts of urban development! 

Shane Hudson and Brady Waisman took home 10th place with their proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and extend landfill lifetimes by establishing a composting program in their community.  Their community was already on board prior to the Finals! 

All of these proposals will be presented again at Blackie School's "Green Day" on June 1.

Students will be building bat boxes, ferruginous hawk nesting platforms, playing trivia, participating in a water conservation relay and much more! I am very excited to be attending this great event to see the boys present their ideas again along with all of the other fun activities we will be a part of! We'll have an Oldman Watershed display set up to compliment the other displays and educate even more students.  

The Caring For Our Watersheds program really does help to create positive change and it was great to be involved this year. At the finals, a representative from Agrium was extremely happy to hear that Kelsey Armstrong's proposal "Storm Drain Survival Kits", last year's 2nd place winner from Lethbridge, has grown into a city-wide initiative called "Adopt a Storm Drain." 

Being an Applied Studies student was an excellent learning experience and a great chance for me to get more involved with the OWC. I truly enjoyed working with youth and teaching them about the environment so that we can all appreciate and help to care for our Oldman Watershed!