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WATERshed program organization utilizes grant from Fund for Lake Michigan

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RACINE — Nancy Carlson, executive director of the WATERshed Program of Southeast Wisconsin Inc., announced the organization has received a grant from the Fund for Lake Michigan to support its award-winning, hands-on environmental education program for Racine students.

The $16,730 grant for the 2021 programming was received through the WATERshed Program’s fiscal agent and partner, Southport Park Association. It will be used to help educate the next generation about the value of living in a coastal community with freshwater resources, and to demonstrate how human activities impact local watersheds.

Living laboratory

The WATERshed Program helps build an ethic of care for students and is effective at teaching science standards in a non-traditional learning environment. The Root River is used as a living laboratory to help students make personal connections to their environment. Fourth-grade Racine Unified students have the opportunity to participate in a two-hour in-person or virtual field trip along the Root River in Racine.

Each year, the program serves approximately 1,200 Racine Unified School District fourth-grade students and 700 Kenosha Unified School District fifth-grade students for field trips and classroom visits, and reconnects with approximately 800 12th-grade students to implement lesson plans and exit surveys focusing on water literacy.

Learners discover what’s going down storm drains and how it travels to rivers and lakes from their neighborhoods. Students conduct tests to determine water quality and explore diverse eco-systems within their community. This project teaches youth how their daily activities impact the watershed.

Ongoing work over the course of 2021 supported by this grant included video lessons; water testing kits; and virtual lessons. Summer and fall activities included a public presentation as part of a Citizen Science partnership with Kenosha Public Library’s Family Program, a home-school in-person field trip, in-person field trips and participation in the annual Girls Empowered by Math and Science (GEMS) Conference (January 2022).


“Thank you WATERshed for teaching me about the ways you test and study the water in our lakes and rivers,” said one student about the video lessons. “I enjoyed learning about this and I like how you did some cool things with the tests. I also liked when you scooped the macroinvertebrates out of the water and explained how they help determine the health of the water.”

“Thank you for letting us know what watershed is and you helped me learn how our water gets cleaned,” said another student.

“The possibility of application in inquiry using the equipment at our school will further student education and connection of science to the environmental world around them,” said a teacher. “This video becomes a teaser trailer of experience they can complete themselves in the future, which is fantastic. Furthermore, this connection of the video along with the use of the materials gives the basic foundation for students to then explore the activities themselves to become more informed in science, but also within the context of environmental issues/sustainability concepts themselves.”

The WATERshed Program has been serving area students for 13 years and works directly with RUSD administrators to ensure curriculum aligns with Next Generation Science Standards and STEM and to schedule class visits and student transportation to and from the Root River Environmental Education Center.

In addition to funders like the Fund for Lake Michigan, the WATERshed Program has a network of community partners and volunteers who help with planning and the delivery of programs during the field trip component, including Racine Unified School District, City of Racine, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps, Career Coaches of Wisconsin and numerous individual volunteers.


The WATERshed Program, started by naturalist Nancy Carlson in 2008, has a mission to promote conservation of our natural resources through education and preservation in Lake Michigan’s coastal communities. The organization, led by its Board of Directors, is committed to building ecological awareness and exploring human relationships to watersheds and natural areas. The nonprofit’s vision is to create a generation of water literate citizens through experiential place-based education.


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