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A good resource for environmental education

Are you an educator in Amelia, Nottoway or Prince Edward counties? Do you teach about water, soil and/or natural resource conservation? Do you want your lessons to have a lasting effect on your students? If so, the Piedmont Soil & Water Conservation District (PSWCD) is here to support you.

Despite the long name, the Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District’s goal is to support sustainable practices and improve soil and water quality in Amelia, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties. The Piedmont SWCD is one of 47 soil and water districts in Virginia. Most counties in Virginia are supported by a soil and water conservation district. The services offered through these districts vary slightly, but the overall goals are the same. We are here to assist the public, encourage best management practices that conserve soil and water, and provide education to all ages.

Kelly Atkinson

The PSWCD office has recently added me to their team as the district’s education coordinator. I come with a strong education background and the desire to support and help educators. I hope to provide educators with materials that are available free of charge to educators through the district.

Available materials can be borrowed, implemented in your learning setting and returned to the district, or I am available to visit you to lead your students through a learning experience. Some of the education topics available include agriculture awareness, watershed identification, water cycle comprehension and soil awareness.

In the spring we partner with several other local organizations to introduce third-graders to agriculture awareness. During this experience participants learn about local foods, livestock care, best management practices (BMPs) and water pollutants. Each participant enjoys hands-on, project-based experiences and leaves with a better understanding of sustainable habits.

Also in the spring, all students in grades K-12 are invited to participate in our poster contest. Posters are designed around a conservation theme and creativity is encouraged. All entries are reviewed by qualified judges. Ribbons, certificates and awards are distributed to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners.

Speaking of winners, every year Envirothon teams from around the state and world compete. An Envirothon team is made up of 5-7 high schoolers. Any school can have a team. Team members are coached by a willing adult (teacher, parent, volunteer) and the Piedmont SWCD provides support to that coach (workshops, local experts, stipend, teaching materials, etc.). Teams prepare for the competitions where they are tested on their knowledge of soils, aquatics, forestry, wildlife and a special topic. This year’s topic is water resource management: local control and local solutions. Envirothon is a fun, extra-curricular activity that introduces participants to numerous opportunities in the fields of natural resources.

At PSWCD we know that clean water is an essential natural resource, and we have lessons and visuals available to enhance learning about water. Our most popular learning tool is our Enviroscape watershed model. This model teaches about watershed concepts and visually demonstrates water pollution. Upon completion of this exercise, participants have a better understanding of their own watershed and how certain behaviors impact soil and water quality. This is a fun, interactive program that aligns well with third and sixth grade SOLs, but learners of all ages can benefit.

The water cycle is another water concept taught in early education and revisited in science classes throughout the school years. The PSWCD’s water cycle game, “An Incredible Journey,” is a fun way for participants to gain an understanding of the journey that water takes. Participants investigate the processes of evaporation, condensation and precipitation. Key concepts include the origin of energy that drives the water cycle and the processes involved in the water cycle.

We also have resources available to help participants understand the major concepts related to soil. These include lessons and activities that teach about origin, components, properties, layers, importance of soil and soil erosion. Through hands-on activities and demonstrations, participants will gain a thorough understanding of soil as a valuable resource.

The Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District has a lot to offer area educators and students who are interested in soil, water and the conservation of these natural resources. All of the resources available align with the most current Virginia SOLs and are free. For more information about teaching materials, or to learn more about these programs call (434) 392-3782 x132.

Kelly Atkinson is the PSWCD education coordinator. She can be reached via email at katkinson@piedmontswcd.org.