St. Bernard Parish, La. (Jun. 15, 2018) – While not yet officially summer, the air was especially thick outside the Maumus Center on Monday. Dew-covered plants lined soggy retention ponds ready to collect water from the coming rains. Teachers meandered through the gardens, learning from experts about how smart landscape design can help manage stormwater and improve water quality.
This was but one of many experiential activities that some two dozen teachers participated in as part of the 4th annual Waters to the Sea® Mississippi River Delta Institute. The three-day professional development program was held this week in St. Bernard Parish for educators from the Mississippi River’s headwaters in Minnesota and delta in Louisiana. Presented by the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation, the annual gathering explores how using rivers as a context can help students meet education standards in science and language arts as well as in other curricular areas.
“Providing quality educational opportunities for children was very important to our Foundation’s founder, my Aunt Arlene, and we’re proud to honor her memory and advance her vision through the Delta Institute,” said Rita Gue, the president of the Meraux Foundation.
The Meraux Foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life in St. Bernard Parish, and given the parish’s position at the delta of one of the largest river systems in the world, the Delta Institute is especially pertinent.
“The Mississippi River and its tributaries drain all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces. So what happens upriver is especially important to us here in the delta,” said Chris Haines, a Meraux Foundation board member. “That’s why we advocate for ‘one river thinking’ and are working to spread awareness, starting with teachers. The message reaches exponentially more people as the lessons are taught to students year after year.”
The Delta Institute is part of a larger national initiative, spearheaded by the Center for Global Environmental Education at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. The local program brings together many partners, including the Coastal Education Program at the University of New Orleans in a leadership role as well as a slew of subject matter experts from fields ranging from the arts to architecture.
“We are proud to present the Delta Institute here in St. Bernard Parish in partnership with universities from the headwaters and the delta,” said Meraux Foundation board member Bill Haines. “One of the best things about the Delta Institute is the diversity of people who gather to think about the river and the environment in different ways. Naturalists, landscape architects, scientists, and artists share perspectives with K-12 teachers from different communities.”
The Meraux Foundation started the local program four years ago, and it has grown into one of the Foundation’s most prominent environmental initiatives. Last year, the Foundation hired a coastal and environmental program manager, Blaise Pezold, to oversee and expand the nonprofit’s work in this area. Pezold has been involved with the Delta Institute since the beginning and has seen it grow throughout the years.
“The Delta Institute is positioning St. Bernard Parish as a leader in delta education,” Pezold explained. “The parish offers the perfect laboratory for studying water systems, and we’re providing opportunities for teachers near and far to learn in this unique ecosystem.”
The Delta Institute consisted of three days of experiential learning that included a boat tour, a visit to a surge barrier, numerous field activities, and of course, exercises at the Meraux Foundation’s Docville Farm campus. A large part of the coursework focused on strategies for helping students ‘think like scientists’ as they practice the skills of literacy.
Next month, a contingent from Louisiana will visit the headwaters in Minnesota as part of the exchange. In addition, award-winning producer Tom Gregory will make a separate trip to the headwaters to gather content for an electronic field trip sponsored by the Meraux Foundation.