As Tropical Storm Cindy barreled across Louisiana, educators from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota and from the delta here in Louisiana gathered in St. Bernard Parish for the third annual Waters to the Sea® Mississippi River Delta Institute last week. The program, which began in St. Bernard Parish in 2015 with a $100,000 investment from the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation, is a three-day professional development workshop for 3rd-8th grade teachers. Teachers from public schools in Louisiana and Minnesota convened to learn how to engage their students in the STEM fields through hands-on, inquiry-based investigations at local watersheds.
“This year of the Institute is special for us, as it’s thrilling to see the growth in the program over the past three years,” said Chris Haines, board member of the Meraux Foundation. “We’ve really come together as one river, with the ideas from those at the headwaters running downriver to mix with ours here in the delta. It’s truly exciting the knowledge and power we have when we join forces.”
In its third year, the River Delta Institute is part of a larger national initiative, spearheaded by the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to create a network of water educators.
“We greatly appreciate the support of the Meraux Foundation, enabling us to convene the River DeltaInstitute here,” said Tracy Fredin, Director of the CGEE at Hamline, at the opening orientation on Tuesday. “We have a great team of local experts with us this year, and we are excited to explore the many connections between stakeholders in this year’s Institute.” Fredin also invited participants to attend the River Institute in Minnesota this summer, which explores the headwaters of the Mississippi.
Stationed out of St. Bernard Parish, the educators participated in three days of workshops, covering different topics each day. While conducting fieldwork and learning social and natural science content that they can take home to their classrooms, the educators also explored deeper connections, like those between the land, the river, and the people.
The participants come from 11 schools in Minnesota and Louisiana, as well as from area non-profits, and governmental agencies. Jennifer Roberts of the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans; Monique Verdin, a local artist, filmmaker, and environmental advocate; architectural designer Aron Chang, who co-founded Ripple Effect, and Blaise Pezold of the Southeast Division of the Coastal Revegetation Program of the Louisiana Department of Forestry and Agriculture were among the experts in this year’s Institute.
“Encouraging educators of young children to use new approaches in teaching is crucial,” said Dinah Maygarden, a leader of this year’s Institute and Director of the Coastal Education Program at the University of New Orleans (UNO). “Giving students hands-on experiences in the natural environment is vital to their growth and development as learners.”
The Meraux Foundation, founded with the vision of bettering the quality of life in St. Bernard Parish, is committed to educating youth and the public on the issues affecting coastal Louisiana. The coastal environment is a key focus of the Meraux Foundation’s programming, which includes plantings, coalition building, and education programs.
“St. Bernard Parish is uniquely positioned to be a leader in water management, coastal restoration, and education, not solely due to its location but also due to the experiences we’ve faced ourselves,” said Meraux Foundation board member Bill Haines. “The Meraux Foundation is dedicated to strengthening our community and actively addressing coastal issues.”
The week’s events began at the Maumus Center, St. Bernard Parish’s new interactive science museum, and traveled to different locations around the region, including Meraux Foundation Board Member Sidney Torres, III’s River House at Crevasse 22. The program culminated with a reception at the Meraux Foundation’s Docville Farm with a performance by Minnesota media personality Don Shelby as Mark Twain, whose literary works highlighted the significance of the Mississippi River.