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Students learn filmmaking skills to teach others about the importance of their watershed

Student dip netting at Maymont park
(Image: Maymont) Student dip netting at Maymont

“It’s a salamander!!” Screams of joy and nervous excitement echo through the courtyard of Tuckahoe Middle School on a warm spring morning. While some students use their hands to search through buckets containing substrate from Maymont’s wetland stream, others chemically test the water for various factors such as nitrate and phosphate levels. Virtual students were able to join in on the effort by tuning in and using test strips provided to chemically test water from their homes. The purpose is all the same- to better understand the watershed in which we live and how we can best take care of it.

This engaging educational watershed program was provided to all Henrico County Public Schools 6th graders with a NOAA B-WET grant and a partnership between Henrico County Public Schools, Maymont, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Keep Henrico Beautiful, Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District, VPM Science Matters, and Virginia Commonwealth University. The grant, known to participants and partners as BWISE (Bay Watershed in Science Education), provided Henrico County 6th graders with “Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences” (MWEEs) over the course of three years. The grant also provided teachers professional learning opportunities to strengthen their capacity to facilitate MWEEs themselves, particularly after the grant period ended. MWEEs not only give students the opportunity to investigate and understand their watershed, but they also build upon student inquiry and culminate in an action project that is student-led and makes a real-world difference.

Many students took advantage of a unique element of the project - learning filmmaking skills with Light House Studio.  The students were able to put their watershed and filmmaking knowledge to work.

Explore 3 of the “Watershed Cell Phone Cinema” videos that the students created:

Because of COVID restrictions in the spring of 2021, Light House Studio film educators created a virtual “Cell Phone Cinema” course that engaged students in learning key filmmaking skills.  Students were taught how to document a story, create a storyboard, film a quality production, and edit their creation – all while focusing on environmental issues within their watershed.  The films spotlighted the action projects conducted by the schools which focused on issues such as reducing waste, starting recycling initiatives, adding native vegetation, and creating community awareness.

“Working with Lighthouse Studios was an incredible opportunity to learn from experts” said HCPS teacher Lollie George. “They did an excellent job preparing lessons for my middle school students. The lessons were perfect for the time allotted and my students’ abilities. This is information my students will be able to apply to projects in all their future years of schooling.”

Will Goss, one of the film educators who taught the course virtually described how the students rose to a unique and sometimes difficult challenge. “The students showed creativity, maintained focus, and were able to produce some remarkable short films.  They took virtual learning in stride and we are very proud of what they achieved.”

Gillian Roberson, one of the student filmmakers explained that “it was fun to learn about watersheds and produce a film – especially with a 1 minute deadline.  It really showed me how you can have 3 minutes of really good footage, but you have to figure out what parts are the most important and what can be cut out, versus what should be saved.”

During the first two years of BWISE, Maymont hosted the students for a field experience where students investigated streams and tested the water on the property. And since challenges give birth to innovations, and COVID restrictions were a challenge, the grant team quickly adapted to bring students equally meaningful experiences in new and innovative ways.

Some of these included:

If you would like to learn more about this BWISE project be sure to check out Henrico Public Schools “Bay Watershed in Science Education” website.