From the Schoolyard to the Riverfront: Students Learn Local Methods to Measure Water Quality in the Dominican Republic

This article was originally written by Partners of the Americas. 

In the Dominican Republic (DR), the Escuela Nacional del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de Jarabacoa (Jarabacoa National Environmental and Natural Resources School) is dedicated to building the next generation of environmental leaders. The Jarabacoa School enrolls 50 students per year into a 2 . year technical program that teaches environmental management, forestry, park management, eco-tourism, and other related fields. As a result of global climate change, which has led to more frequent and severe droughts, floods, and storms in the region, the Jarabacoa School wanted to incorporate issues of climate change into their curriculum. However, their curriculum was out of date and the school has limited resources and capacity to find techniques to teach about climate change that could be integrated into their curriculum. The Jarabacoa School was especially interested in teaching their students about water quality, as the Yaque del Norte watershed provides the water supply for human consumption and agriculture to more than two million inhabitants, including the Jarabacoa region.

Partners of the Americas reached out to Rick Hall and Maria Moreno from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) Arboretum in hopes they would be able to help. Rick Hall is the Program Manager of the UW-Madison RESTORE Earth Partnership program that teaches students and teachers how to restore native ecosystems through interdisciplinary learning. The program enhances community awareness, skills, and knowledge of stewardship actions to improve biodiversity and ecological restoration. Rick has extensive training and experience in bilingual and experiential education, land protection, ecological restoration, curriculum development, and service-learning with schools and community-based organizations in the U.S. and throughout Latin America. Maria del Carmen Moreno, PhD, is a Cultural Anthropologist and Multi-cultural Outreach Coordinator for RESTORE. She grew up in a Dominican family and was very interested in supporting the Jarabacoa School. In 2014, Rick and Maria helped to create Colaboración Ambiental, a Spanish version of the Earth Partnership training materials. They adapted the program to address local environmental issues in Nicaragua. The class has since been formally integrated into the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education.

In February 2015, Rick and Maria traveled to the DR as F2F volunteers to explore the possibility of adapting the Colaboración Ambiental program to the Dominican context. Faculty and staff of the Jarabacoa School were involved in a week-long planning process for the development of appropriate learning activities that encouraged watershed exploration along the Jimenoa River. These activities were then piloted with the students at the Jarabacoa School. One of the main activities Rick and Maria taught the students was how to assess river conditions through the identification of macroinvertebrates. Using nets and other equipment purchased from the local hardware store and assembled at the school, students took samples of the water and classified the fish, crustaceans, and insects they caught into four categories according to their sensitivity or tolerance to pollution. This activity helped to teach students not only how to measure water quality, but also served as an opportunity to show students other methods of measuring water quality when specific tools are not available.

The students also learned practical and simple methods for collecting soil samples, identifying soil types, and assessing the slope of the land. After practicing these skills, the students used the information they gathered to make a rain garden. They chose plants based on whether or not they were native, their tolerance to flooding or other natural disasters, and based on the results

Because environmental education is important for all age groups, the students from the Jarabacoa School applied what they learned by leading parallel activities at nearby schools. Very quickly, the Jarabacoa students realized that aside from simply imparting a curriculum, they were cultivating an interest in sustainability and its impact on everyday life to the general public. Maria states "There is a tendency to look north for models and solutions, before looking locally and regionally in the Caribbean. F2F and Colaboración Ambiental could help make these connections and teach this basic tenant of community organizing and education."

The School District Superintendent now seeks to include five additional schools in the project, with the ultimate aim of district wide implementation. The Jarabacoa School also created a partnership with the RESTORE program to finalize the curriculum of the Dominican Colaboración Ambiental.

While reflecting on his trip, Rick shared "We found people in the Dominican Republic to be open, enthusiastic learners, eager to learn new things that would assist an increased level of knowledge, respect, and care for the natural world, among students, faculty, and the general public, and some extraordinarily positive resources that can be employed to enhance efforts in natural resource protection, enhancement, and use for environmental education." The impact of Rick and Maria’s first trip was far-reaching and powerful, giving rise to curiosity, passion, and deeper respect for the Dominican landscape. Rick and Maria will be returning in 2016 to follow up on formalizing the curriculum and to incorporate a greater focus on climate change awareness, readiness, and resilience in their watershed education.

October 2, 2017 - 12:00