Those simple words were heard at the entrance to the abandoned Newkirk Mine, where a pool of water filled with oxidized iron trickled into streams heading for the Schuylkill River. The speaker: Bill Reichert, President, Schuylkill Headwaters Association. His audience: 16 sixth-grade Philadelphia teachers. The event: a field trip to Tamaqua, Pennsylvania and the headwaters of the Schuylkill River. It’s part of the Fairmount Water Works Middle School Teacher Fellowship Program, funded by the William Penn Foundation. The goal: to develop a middle-school curriculum for the Philadelphia School District that integrates urban watershed education with core science and English standards.
“The Schuylkill is the source of the City’s tap water. Our kids should have opportunities to discover how important and relevant the river is to our lives, and that starts with their teachers” says Ellen Freedman Schultz, Associate Director for Education, and champion of the fellowship program. “What better way to engage teachers than for them to see pollution at the Schuylkill’s source?”
The teachers from nine middle schools in the fellowship agree. That’s why they’re participating in the ten-month pilot. By June, the team will have developed and field-tested lessons in their classrooms aided by student teacher volunteers from Temple University’s TU Teach program, University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and Bryn Mawr College’s Community Praxis program. An Advisory Board of curriculum experts, school administrators, scientists, and strategists provide advice and guidance. Included are representatives from the Philadelphia Education Fund Math + Science Coalition, the Environmental Protection Agency and Need in Deed.
The Tamaqua field trip included a visit to the Mary D. Borehole Filtration System, which was designed to treat 1.7 million gallons of mine drainage daily. Through a system of pools and vegetation, the system filters 1,000 gallons of water per minute before it heads into the Schuylkill.
The teachers tested the water for pH levels, found small life forms in the water – proof of its quality — and stopped by the headwaters of the Schuylkill, which is a simple stream in the anthracite coal lands of Schuylkill County.