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Watershed Moments: Abington teachers, students and volunteers honored for work with watershed partnership

Matt Schickling, the Wire

Abington schools were well-represented at the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership award ceremony held last week at Globe Dye Works in Philadelphia.

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The event was meant both to commemorate the partnership’s 10-year anniversary and honor locals involved in education, improvement and volunteer work within the watershed, which is a 33-square-mile area of land where rainwater flows into the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Creek.

The stream runs about 32 linear miles through parts of Eastern Montgomery County and Philadelphia, where it eventually flows into the Delaware River.

“Together, we’re all making a difference. It isn’t just us. By partnering with organizations and individuals, from teachers and park-lovers to students and professionals, we’re all inspiring a huge team of watershed partners.” Julie Slavet, executive director of TTF. “That’s what we do every day. That’s what we think about every day.”

Abington Friends School third-and fourth-grade science teacher Rosanne Mistretta was honored for her leadership work to bring a riparian buffer and rain garden to a portion of the Jenkintown Creek alongside the school’s campus.

A riparian buffer is a streamside area of vegetation that helps protect it from nearby land uses. Basically, the buffer improves the quality of the stream by intercepting harmful materials or chemicals that would otherwise end up in the water. It also provides a habitat for indigenous species and helps to stabilize the stream bank.

Mistretta also helped turn the Lower School playground into a nature playground, the first in the U.S. to be accredited by the National Arbor Day Foundation. There, the students have an outdoor learning space.

“They understand that a riparian buffer protects the stream. It’s great to hear a kindergartner have the words ‘riparian buffer’ just roll off their tongue and kind of internalize the fact that the trees are helping the stream,” Mistretta said. “It’s really amazing, actually.”

For the riparian buffer at Abington Friends School, about 400 trees were planted with the help of 250 students.

“I feel like so many people just don’t know how stormwater is a really big issue. If we can teach the kids about it, that protects, maybe, the next generation,” Mistretta added.

Abington Junior and Senior high schools were also honored during the ceremony. In 2012 and 2013, two clubs from the schools, the Green Thumbs and H2O for Life, teamed up with TTF, the Abington Environmental Advisory Commission (EAC) and Briar Bush Nature Center to make a riparian buffer at the headwaters of East Baeder Creek.

“The importance of students knowing is they’re the ones that are going to be living in the homes and keeping track of what’s going to be going back into our soil,” eighth-grade science teacher Christina Rooney said. “Surface runoff and other stuff is getting into our streams, and the riparian buffer is one way to stabilize the ecosystem in that area.”

The Green Thumbs, along with volunteers like Jen Sherwood from the Abington EAC, initiated several projects to both educate others about the importance of the watershed and improve the local environment.

“It’s great to get outside, do something fun, explore the creek,” Sherwood said. “They also know that they’re doing something important to help the environment.”

Abington Senior High School students involved in the H2O for Life Club were recognized for their efforts to improve water quality and access across the globe.

“We fundraise so we can help build water systems around the world for countries that have terrible water conditions or no water at all around them,” Jordan Brown, junior at ASHS, said.

“There’s a second part, which is education,” senior Lila Burger added.

The group organized a play where members dress up as diseases that can contaminate water supplies. Students wear costumes of malaria, E. coli, typhoid fever and black fly disease and educate others on the impact these can have on water and the people who need it.

The funds raised go to support places as far as India, South Africa and the Philippines, where water education is sorely needed. Every dollar raised by the club is matched by the United Nations. This year, the club has a goal of $5,000, which, if reached, could bring $10,000 to the effort.

“Since we started in 2007, we have brought water, sanitation and hygiene education to about 15 schools around the world,” club moderator and teacher Mary Rodgers said. “We have circumnavigated the globe and we’re on our second time around.”

For more information about the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed, visit www.ttfwatershed.org.

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