With a morning full of rafting on and zip-lining across the Chattahoochee River, 65 local science teachers on Thursday celebrated their previous two days of learning how to integrate that natural resource into their classrooms.
And they capped the "Science of the River" program with lunch served on the Frank K. Martin Pedestrian Bridge.
Sherri Smith, who teaches fifth-grade science and social studies at Sherwood Elementary School in Phenix City, said hands-on activities are the best way to turn on her students' minds.
"We're next to Moon Lake, and we have a stream down there, so we can do water testing and finding bugs," she said.
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Visiting the river or other local bodies of water can enhance lessons about water quality, water conservation, wildlife and "how we can preserve this area for generations to come," she said.
The first two days of professional development were divided into two sessions: The Chattahoochee River Warden sponsored the session at Lake Harding; Alabama Water Watch sponsored the session at Troy University-Phenix City.
"All of them involved kits that include lesson plans," said Troy vice chancellor David White, the event's chairman. "That's the way you integrate it. If you tell teachers you need to add this to your curriculum but you don't give them lesson plans, it doesn't happen."
While guitarist and singer Chad Jernigan entertained the crowd, Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis and MCSD region chiefs Terry Baker, Ronald Wiggins, James Wilson grilled an estimated 100 hamburgers and 100 hotdogs.
"It's an appreciation for the teachers and an opportunity to interact with them in a little different setting," Lewis said.
Phenix City superintendent Randy Wilkes was committed elsewhere during the lunch. Russell County interim superintendent Brenda Coley said, "As a member of the community and with teacher participants, it's important for me to be here and support it."
White said Mat Swift, president of the W.C. Bradley Co. real estate division, and Richard Bishop, president of Uptown Columbus Inc., established the Whitewater Stakeholders Task Force to find ways to leverage the 2013 opening of the Chattahoochee River's 2.5-mile course, the world's longest set of rapids in an urban setting.
"Through a series of organizational and brain-storming sessions," White said, "a Bi-City community-based group was formed to connect our new newly restored river with the community that had historically viewed it as dirty and dangerous."
The task force asked White to chair its education engagement group. In June 2013, Uptown and W.C. Bradley funded rafting trips for two teachers from each public school in Muscogee County, Phenix City and Russell County districts. In June 2014, principals and administrators from those school systems took their turn on the river.
Those events were full of fun and fellowship and exposed educators to the river, White said, but something was missing.
"All three of the superintendents felt that if this was going to have legs in the future," he said, "it needed to be tied to professional development."
Next year, White said, the program will expand to include social studies teachers for "History on the River."
"But they put so much energy and excitement into 'Science on the River,' he said, "we probably also will do 'Math on the River.'"