GRAND PRIZE WINNER
Two years ago, Cathy Dykstra made a dramatic switch to her grade 6 classroom. It became the home of the “Water Rockers”. Thanks to a Y.S.A./State Farm of America grant to help get things off the ground, she and her students began to learn about water.
Their class motto is “ERIN: OUR LOCAL WATER ROCKS!” They learn about the water cycle and about world water issues and what countries are doing about them. They research about oceans and the impact that humans are having on ocean life. They investigate their local water supply. They learn about how much water it takes to make our food, clothing, and other items around us. They read facts about plastic water bottles and reusable bottles. They estimate how much water they use every day and they discover how to conserve water at school, at home, and in the community. The students have been so enthusiastic and engaged that water has taken over their reading, writing, math, science, and art activities. They also have local water “experts” come into their classroom, work with them in the school yard, and conduct experiments with them down by the local river.
In the school, they make daily morning announcements, put on presentations for other classrooms, post their research on bulletin boards and throughout the school, organize school assemblies, and write articles for the school online newsletter. Every student is assigned a leadership role. After two years, they have persuaded 90% of the staff and students at Erin P.S. to use reusable bottles every day.
Cathy has also partnered with the local BIA, with a group of parents from the school, and with the environmental leaders from “Transition Erin”. Once a month, with their bright blue Water Rocker t-shirts and reusable bottles, she takes her class downtown to talk to the local store owners about their ongoing research, about water conservation, and about the importance of valuing customers who carry reusable bottles into their stores. Her students have persuaded 100% of the downtown stores to join the “Blue W” program.
In the community, her Water Rocker students write weekly newspaper articles for the local paper, and they make presentations at local Town Council meetings, at Transition Erin meetings, at church services, and at community events like Celebrate Erin. They have even been on the local radio. This has noticeably strengthened the school and community relationship and has given her students amazing experiences. Her class even organized a $5000 community fundraiser to help the Town Council install water bottle refilling stations in two of the local arenas.
Cathy just recently completed co-writing a Water Rockers curriculum document with Marc Mailhot to share with other schools and school boards. Her Water Rockers initiative has already spread to two other schools in the Orangeville area. She has helped to train other teachers in her board and in the States with a Y.S.A. Webinar about teaching through inquiry, across subjects, and organizing school/community initiatives. Last year, her Water Rockers program won $25,000 for her school in a Staples/Earth Day Canada contest.
Having a real life, student-directed, inquiry-based program full of leadership opportunities has thoroughly engaged her students and helped them to thrive as learners. The students have gained self-confidence and social skills such as public speaking, shaking hands, and making eye contact. They feel knowledgeable, capable, and valued by both the school and community.
As Cathy has discovered in her 23 years of teaching, it really is vital for all students of all ages to feel that they can have a positive impact on the world. By becoming compassionate, knowledgeable global citizens, her Water Rockers really are making a difference…one drop of water at a time!