My name is Ella Parker and I am a research assistant with the University of Northern British Columbia’s Integrated Watershed Research Group. I graduated from the Sustainable Living Leadership Program in 2018. For my community action project, I decided to organize a film project to document the stream-monitoring program that UNBC and School District 91 co-designed to engage students in their watersheds. This program aims to get students learning outside, increase their knowledge of small stream ecology and introduce environmental values. Sounds like something every kid should get to do, right? My project was motivated by the hope that making this movie would serve to spread this program to other communities around BC and the Yukon. Going into the project, however, I decided that the students in the school should have the power to tell their own story. So what began as a simple film project has morphed into an incredible collaborative learning journey for myself, and three high-school students from the Nechako Valley Secondary School. The following blog post paints a picture of what this journey has been like so far. Please note that the order of events and quotes are retold from memory and altered to make a concise summary.
October 12th, 2018
As I pull up to the Murray Creek Restoration site on a crisp and clear October morning, students in rain boots are already filing off of the white school bus, landing on the cushion of the overgrown hay field. The black lettering on the side of the bus reads: “School District 91.” In a quick progression of organized chaos, schoolteachers Patty and Mia divide grade 9 students into 2 groups, present them with blue bins and white buckets to carry, and proceed to march in separate directions along the creek, students in tow. They only have two hours to teach the students all they need to know to adequately assess the health of the stream.
I turn to the three grade twelve students standing beside me. Chris is carrying a video camera, Sydney a boom stick for sound, and Jordan, a notebook scribbled full of interview questions. Together, the four of us make up the film crew that is about to capture NVSS’s experiential learning stream monitoring program. “We need to get some close-up of the students in the stream,” says Jordan, the student lead on the project, “and some good scenery shots too.” Sydney and Chris nod in approval and with that we break our huddle and head to the stream.
At the first station, Patty has her students measuring the creek’s temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen. We test out different camera angles as a flock of migrating geese glide smoothly above our heads. At the other station, Mia’s students brush freshwater invertebrates off of the stones on the creek bed into a net, and then sort them into ice cube trays for identification. Sydney and Chris interview one of the students, “What invertebrates did you find?” they ask. “We found a worm!” one of the girls exclaims. Another follows by explaining, “there are three categories of bugs, some are intolerant to pollution, some are somewhat tolerant and some are tolerant. You can tell the health of the stream by what you find.” In addition to the worm, they have identified some mayflies and stoneflies, two kinds that are intolerant to pollution. At this stage the monitoring protocols are still pretty new for the students, but from this we can tell that students are catching onto the general idea.
After this initial film session I rendezvous with the video team to check out the information panel describing the restoration that took place on this section of Murray Creek. Jordan tells us she hopes we can interview a contact she knows who was involved, Wayne Salewski, director of the Nechako Environment & Water Society (NEWS). “One of the coolest things that Wayne did with NEWS,” she tells us, “is that they worked with farmers to install cattle water systems.” There is one nearby that we walk to. From afar the cattle water system looks like just a massive recycled tractor tire, but when you get close you see that it is holding water, from the creek. Coupled with electric fencing, this system keeps the cows out of the creek. “It makes a huge difference when you take the cows out of the creek,” Jordan explains, “they cause so much damage to the creek banks.” Vanderhoof is a farming community and all three members of the film team either live on a ranch or have family that do. Sydney tells us, “I would have a hard time convincing my grandpa to make any of these changes on his farm, he’s too stubborn,” but someone else chips in, “that’s the same with a lot of the old farmers, but soon the new generation will take over.”
The three students continue to discuss threats affecting their watershed. They mention the fragility of White Sturgeon fish species, the possibility of the Kenney Dam breaking in an earthquake, and the severity of wildfires they experienced that summer. They are excited about what their grade 8 counterparts are learning at the stream today. “I wish that I was able to do this when I was in grade 8,” Chris mentions, “maybe I would have cared about the environment sooner if I had”. Building on this conversation, as we walk back to the monitoring site, I ask Jordan, “Any chance you have decided on a theme for the movie yet?” For Jordan, this project is part of her independent study, and her job is to weave a narrative for the film that feels right for her. She nods, “I want the theme to be connection,” she says, “connection between the land and the water, connection between the health of our ecosystems and the health of our community and connection between all the people who use the land. Everything is connected!” she explains excitedly.
Packing up the film equipment for the day, I mention to the team that it would cool to get some drone footage from above. “I have an idea!” Chris says, “maybe we can convince Mr. Sundahl to take us up in the plane and do a fly over.” Both Chris and Sydney are part of the aviation program, a new course available to NVSS students. I agree that would be amazing, but try not to get my hopes up. Sure enough, when I meet the students back at Murray Creek the following week, they excitedly tell me of their success. They had flown over Murray Creek on Friday afternoon, dangling the camera out of the window to record the view. “Guess what we saw upstream of the monitoring site!” they blurt out quickly. “There’s gravel quarry just up the road,” Sydney says. “How do you think that impacts creek?” Chris asks. “This is something to investigate!” they conclude. I realize I am beaming. I no longer know where this film project is heading, what change it will instigate or my role in what is about to unfold. I do know that I feel excited to be a part of the work that this team is doing, and I am already impressed with the power of student-based stream monitoring and inquiry through film, to engage students in their local water issues.
At the time this blog post was written, the film team is in the process of editing the footage and expects the film to be completed by December 2018.