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Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper brings Young Environmental Leaders Program to Niagara Falls students with Community Block Grant

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Mon, Feb 11th 2019 11:55 pm

Immersive education program brings environmental studies home for high school students

Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper has begun a new chapter of its successful Young Environmental Leaders Program with Niagara Falls High School students, thanks to a Niagara Falls Community Block Grant from the City of Niagara Falls Community Development.

The Young Environmental Leaders Program (YELP) is an immersive education and mentoring program. It provides an opportunity for students interested in the sciences to learn about the environmental harms impacting their neighborhoods, progressive solutions to these problems, and potential environmental careers. The entire program is provided by Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper with grant funding, so there is no cost to students or parents.

“This program is an investment in some of our city’s biggest assets: the education of our kids, and the health of our natural waterways,” said Seth Piccirillo, director of Community Development for Niagara Falls.

Geographically, Niagara Falls has access to 20 percent of the world’s fresh water through its location on the Great Lakes. Due to its industrial past and aging infrastructure, these resources have been severely degraded. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2010 Priority Waterbodies List, every waterway that flows through and around Niagara Falls has been impaired by pathogens and chemical contamination. In spite of this designation, Niagara Falls area waterways are still used by many people in the city for swimming, recreation and subsistence fishing. Many residents are unaware of the environmental harms and risks they may be exposed to in these activities. Through direct, hands-on experiences, participating students will learn to identify environmental harms and risks faced by themselves, their families and their neighbors.

The program consists of two distinct components. The experiential learning component offers a college credit course taught by Waterkeeper staff and partner teachers. The students will receive three college credits upon completion of the program through partnership with Niagara University. Students will learn to reduce the risks to themselves and their families from fishing, swimming and otherwise enjoying local waterways. Students will also experience their waterways by exploring some places that can only be reached by boat under their own power, a transformative experience for many young people.

The mentorship component will take place upon conclusion of the experiential learning component. The top four performing students will be selected through an application process to take part in a paid summer internship with Waterkeeper. Students will complete a research project alongside knowledgeable Waterkeeper staff, and present findings to their peers through formal presentations and at four community outreach events. By conducting research on the water quality of neighborhood waterways and presenting this information to other community members, students will develop essential career skills while helping to protect their neighbors from environmental harms.

Waterkeeper is using the existing, successful Buffalo YELP curriculum, as well as adapting and creating new curriculum specifically for the Niagara Falls students and the surrounding environs.

“The Niagara Falls High School AP biology students are eager to learn and get involved with the opportunities provided by Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and YELP program,” said Kim Maynard, Niagara Falls High School teacher. “Students are motivated to participate in the hands-on learning experiences that will benefit our community and create leaders to further the preservation of our local and global environment.”

For more information about Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper’s YELP, visit https://bnwaterkeeper.org/programs/yelp.

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