By Cliff Foster
Mary Heuwinkel grew up on an Iowa farm and is fond of gardening and landscaping. So it’s no wonder that she appreciates what keeps her plants alive: water.
Heuwinkel, a visiting assistant professor of elementary education at MSU Denver, is passing on her appreciation of the source of all life to would-be teachers and to third graders at two Denver Public
Schools elementary schools that are part of a grant-funded college readiness program managed by the University’s Center for Urban Education.
MSU Denver is a host institution for Project Wet and Heuwinkel is the go-to person for the program’s activities in the Denver area. Based in Bozeman, Mont., Project Wet is a worldwide water education program aimed at students, teachers, parents and others that provides water resource materials, teacher training and organizes community water events.
Heuwinkel, who teaches a math, science and health methods course, conducts voluntary summer water education workshops for future elementary teachers and teaches Project Wet enrichment classes at Fairview Elementary and Cheltenham Elementary, two of the five Denver schools participating in the CUE’s 21st Century Community Learning Center effort.
Young students are a receptive audience, says Tom Cech, director of the One World, One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship, who has been involved with Project Wet since its beginnings in the mid-1980s. “Natural resources and water and the environment really strike a chord with kids,” he says.
And when kids get enthusiastic about a subject, they don’t keep it to themselves.
“We want young kids to learn the importance of water, where it comes from…to understand that it’s a limited resource and that we need to be good stewards,” Heuwinkel says. “When you’re working with elementary students, they take that home to their families and pretty soon you see them teaching their parents and their siblings and so forth about it.”
As for future teachers, there’s a dual payoff for those who participate in Project Wet and other environmental education programs.
“It’s important for our pre-service teachers to understand the environment and science and this is such a good way for them to learn some content and also to learn some pedagogy,” Heuwinkel says. “They learn so much about how to teach and how to teach about the outdoors.”
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