The Ozarks’ diverse array of streams and rivers lie at the heart of the region’s vast natural splendor. Conforming to the demands of the Ozarks’ varied topography, some roar and tumble over rocks and through narrow valleys while others quietly roll along across lush fields at their own leisurely pace. Changing how people think about stewardship and preserving our natural resources is an important part of the mission for the many of the organizations involved in the Stewardship Ozarks Initiative.
For the Bryant Creek Watershed Education Project, these flowing Ozarks’ treasures form the foundation of their mission to provide hands-on, place-based educational programs for area youth focused on the local natural environment and the cultural heritage of the five major watersheds of the south central Ozarks: Bryant Creek, Lower North Fork, North Fork River, Spring River and Eleven Point River watersheds.
Twelve years ago, residents in the Bryant Creek watershed created the Bryant Creek Watershed Education Project as a means of protecting these cherished public resources. From the start, education was to be the focus, and as the organization grew their focus expanded to include history and culture of the various people who have called the region home. Bringing those subjects into the fold of their education efforts made sense for the organization, as one key of successful conservation education is reconciling the notions of economic and population growth with the need to protect and preserve the region’s natural resources. Learning about how human populations have viewed and utilized their natural resources helps to achieve that.
Too often, however, education efforts mean long lectures and sleepy students. The Bryant Creek Project avoids heavy eyelids through their unique use of the “place base education” concept that inserts students into their local surroundings for a wide variety of hands-on learning activities. The web fits naturally into their educational approach as a teaching resource, an interactive means to engage kids and a feedback loop that allows students and teachers to connect and interact easily with others.
In the ArtStream project, students work with an artist to create prints, tiles and other works of art that parallel curriculum focused on the watersheds. Students also maintain a journal throughout the project chronicling their lessons and experience through the program. Photos of the art projects, journals and photos from the project are then posted on the web. This becomes a reference point for participating students whose work can be shown through a public medium and shared with their peers and others participating in projects that build on previous lessons. Teachers utilize the web as a teaching resource to connect with classes and teachers in other school districts, allowing them to work with others to integrate these resources into their activities.
History Works is a recent addition to the Project’s quiver of place based education programs that focuses directly on the history and culture of the area. Using biographical sketches of early Ozarks settlers from the Broadfoot Collection at the Harlin Museum in West Plains – also a CFO Endowment Partner – History Works offers area fourth grade students a chance to visit the museum and view the collection. There, students interview and draw their own sketches of local volunteers role playing historic figures. In addition to having their works displayed along side the original Broadfoot works in the museum, student art and the biographies they create from interviewing characters are placed on the web.
In February 2007, the Bryant Watershed Education Project received a grant totaling $21,055 through the Louis and Dorothy Coover Regional Grantmaking Program, a partnership between Community Foundation of the Ozarks and Commerce Trust Company. This grant helps fund their interactive, place based education programs, namely ArtStream and the History Works program. This grant will keep these unique learning opportunities available to area students by providing salaries for three part-time staff and agency funding.
The Bryant Watershed Education Project works with 20 school districts serving more than 15,000 students in Douglas, Howell, Oregon, and Ozark Counties. Grants, such as the Coover grant, and partnerships with organizations like the Community Foundation of the Ozarks will help this small nonprofit organization continue to offer innovative education programs that promote a sense of understanding and stewardship among the future caretakers of the Ozarks’ rivers and streams.