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Students get hands-on with NOAA’s B-WET program

News Photo by Kaitlin Ryan Local schools participating in the Bay Watershed Education and Training Program (B-WET) visited the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary this week to start working on their designated projects. The B-WET program is a grant-funded program through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

ALPENA — Local students will be working on science and environmental programs in upcoming weeks through the Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Program, with the help of educational community partners.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) started the B-WET program started a partnership the Thundery Bay National Marine Sanctuary (TBNMS) for place-based learning.

The B-WET program is funded by grants that focus on “Meaningful Watershed Education Experiences (MWEEs),” and provides learning for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, while bringing together education and community partners. The Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative works with the sanctuary and the Jesse Besser Museum to provide onshore and offshore experiences for the students during B-WET.

Teachers who participate choose locally relevant issues for students to study that also align with the school curriculum.

Hannah Hazewinkel works at the sanctuary as a member of the Huron Pines AmeriCorps. She said the program encourages students to be leaders and good stewards of the environment.

“It is a mutually beneficial relationship that these projects take on, because it is a more engaging project for the kids,” Hazewinkel said. “It is student-driven, and it engages them in their community.”

In Alpena, local schools are visiting the sanctuary as a way to supplement their programs by doing hands-on experiments, learning about shipwreck history, working with remotely operated vehicles, as well as learning at the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan. The field of study and defined project the teacher has chosen for the program will dictate exactly what the students do during their time at the sanctuary and the Besser Museum.

Bob Thomson’s class from Ella White Elementary School is focusing on microplastics in the Great Lakes, and the students visited the sanctuary on Thursday to conduct experiments related to microbeads, which are small pieces of debris used as exfoliants in body washes and toothpaste. While microbeads have been recently banned by the government, they can still be found in products in many homes. Students filtered water and soap mixtures containing microbeads to get a better understanding of how they get into the environment.

Within the program, students get to do such hands-on experiments involving environmental topics, and the program provides support and resources for teachers. It is a way to get kids involved in issues that affect the local community and how they can take action to help solve the problem.

Cheboygan Middle School visited the sanctuary on Friday to study fisheries, fish habitats, water quality, and ROVs. Fifth-grade teacher Ann Douglas wrote a grant for her students and is raising sturgeon in her classroom as part of the project. She said the grant funding for B-WET was one of the only ways her students would be able to gain such informational and hands-on experiences beyond the classroom.

“Through the grant, we have very knowledgeable people helping them and running them through (educational) stations,” Douglas said. “The learning they are doing today goes along in with my science curriculum, and it is local to them. They are Michigan kids.”

Currently, the B-WET program can be found all over the country including California, Gulf of Mexico, New England, and in the Great Lakes. Regional funding opportunities can be found on the website at noaa.gov/office-education/bwet/apply.

Kaitlin Ryan can be reached at kryan@thealpenanews.com or at 358-5693.

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