Blog Post by Chelsea Silva, Executive Director, Friends of the Rio de Flag; STEM VISTA Member for Friends of the Rio and City of Flagstaff Sustainability
A Ribbon of Life for Flagstaff Students, Residents, and Visitors
Walking from City Hall north you will find yourself on the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS), seemingly headed towards the San Francisco Peaks. As you pass the Public Library, you’ll notice Wheeler Park to your right and a grassy, depression with a footbridge crossing to your right, the Rio de Flag.
An ephemeral stream, you will not see water in this grassy channel unless a monsoon hits in the summer or snow melts and flows downstream in the winter.
Keep wandering half a mile up the FUTS along the Rio de Flag and you will quickly arrive at Frances Short Pond. Filled naturally and sometimes supported with additional reclaimed water, the “duck pond” is one of the most visited sites along the Rio due to the recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities it provides.
The pond and the Rio flowing downstream from it provide a unique setting for Flagstaff students to learn about their environment. The Rio also gives students a chance to give back to their river through restoration and citizen science.
It is my goal as an AmeriCorps STEM VISTA member to connect Flagstaff students with the Rio de Flag. That is why I started the Adopt-the-Rio de Flag Stewardship program in my first VISTA term in 2016-2017. This program allowed me to connect with local teachers to share resources and provide introductory lessons on the Rio de Flag.
In fall 2017, freshman and sophomore biology students at Flagstaff High School began participation in the program. First, the students engaged in a classroom Introduction to the Rio, exploring different aspects of the Rio in small groups.
The following month, students collected data on the Rio de Flag, which was done in partnership with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s citizen science program called Arizona Water Watch. All of the photos in this blog post are courteous of these students who worked hard to document their surroundings as part of the data collection protocol.
During the remainder of my position, I hope to expand these place-based learning opportunities to other Flagstaff students. To achieve this goal, I will host a teacher workshop in the spring that focuses on stewardship, citizen science, and the Rio de Flag. This will give teachers the tools they need to connect their students to the Rio de Flag as stewards of their local river.
In order for the Adopt-the-Rio program to continue into the future, I also conduct grant writing and partnership building as part of my AmeriCorps STEM VISTA position. These tasks require a watershed-wide focus and long-term visioning with guidance and support from local government, residents, businesses and nonprofits.
The Rio de Flag is Flagstaff’s river, and it is our collective duty to protect it for future generations. My AmeriCorps STEM VISTA position gives students the chance to take the lead in protecting and restoring the Rio through citizen science and stewardship.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Rio de Flag, we welcome you to watch our new short film, “Ribbon of Life.” Produced by one of our volunteers, Brittain Davis, this film is about those who visit and love the Rio de Flag.
Guest Blog Post by Erin O’Keefe, Events & Outreach Coordinator with Flagstaff's Open Space Program through the STEM Education VISTA Project
The Indigenous Youth STEM Academy Completes its Pilot Year
This past summer, the City of Flagstaff Open Space Program implemented a pilot year of the Indigenous Youth STEM Academy (IYSA) at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. As Native Americans are one of the most underrepresented groups within STEM careers and among STEM degree-holders, I recognized a need for focused programming with Indigenous youth on these topics. As such, the goal of this program is to provide Indigenous youth in Flagstaff and the surrounding communities with an opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in connection to culture, community, and stewardship while providing resources for pursuing higher education and professional careers in STEM fields.
Programming took place at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve as it provides a unique opportunity for learning about Northern Sinagua petroglyphs and habitation sites, has an outdoor classroom area, interpretive signs throughout the Preserve, and represents a place of cultural importance for many surrounding tribal communities. The Academy consists of daylong sessions with various Indigenous youth groups. The key components of each session include an interpretive tour of the Preserve, a panel discussion with local STEM professionals and students, followed by an interactive learning project.
This year, we programmed with three different groups: the National Indian Youth Leadership Project (Gallup, New Mexico), Native Americans for Community Action (Flagstaff, Arizona), and Kinlani Bordertown Dormitory (Flagstaff, Arizona). Youth participants ranged from middle school to high school age, and represented tribes including Navajo, Zuni, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Hopi, and Apache. The learning projects included rock art documentation and plant identification. Our panelists represented STEM fields from organizations including the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Natural Channel Design, Friends of the Rio de Flag, Museum of Northern Arizona, and Departments from Northern Arizona University including Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Communication, Forestry, and Applied Indigenous Studies. Panelists discussed their experiences in STEM, why they are passionate about their field and their advice for young people pursuing education and careers in those areas.
In order to gauge response to the programming as well as any changes in interest to pursue STEM in college or careers, our youth participants filled out pre- and post- survey questionnaires. The surveys included questions such as, “How interested are you in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) as a potential career?”, “How interested are you in going to college?”, and “How important do you feel it is for Native Americans to work in STEM fields?” One participant expressed, “It is extremely important for Native Americans to work in STEM careers. I feel Native Americans are extremely overlooked as we are seen to not be well-educated.” Another participant stated, “One of the biggest barriers [to Native Americans pursuing careers in STEM] is poor education in our home towns.”
Overall, we identified increased interest in pursuing college as well as learning more about various STEM areas and topics. There was a large number of positive responses to the programming activities, and many of our participants expressed that they found great value in the panel discussions specifically.
As this is the first year of the Indigenous Youth STEM Academy, we plan to incorporate lessons learned into year two of programming in 2018. We plan to focus on enhanced collaboration with a specific youth group in order to provide continuous and more focused programming to build upon each session rather than providing only one-time sessions with various youth groups. We will also be transitioning our program schedule from summer sessions to sessions taking place during the school year to be able to engage youth more consistently throughout the year.
It is extremely exciting and rewarding to have these types of experiences where we are learning alongside Indigenous youth and witnessing their strength, intelligence, leadership and potential. We greatly look forward to continuing these efforts into the next year and the future.
Guest Blog Post by Rose Houk
It’s pretty easy to just flush the toilet and forget where our human waste goes. For most of us, it’s “out of sight, out of mind.”
But on a Saturday in April, nearly 50 interested residents toured Flagstaff’s Rio de Flag Water Reclamation plant to look a little deeper into where our wastewater goes once it leaves our homes and businesses.
It turns out the behind-the-scenes story is really interesting.
The Rio de Flag Water Reclamation Plant is a clean, attractive building standing just beyond Sam’s Club by a trail along the Rio. Inside are bright offices, maps on the walls, and a friendly city employee, Jim Huchel, who greeted us and led the tour.
Once we were all signed in, Jim gave us a firsthand look at the reclamation process from beginning to end. The plant, built in 1993, receives wastewater from the west side of Flagstaff. It first comes into the “primary clarifier,” what looks like a big black spaceship that just touched down. We peered inside to see a thick, dark, watery substance just sitting there.
Unseen were the natural bacteria that were beginning to biologically alter the wastes. Some of the material in the chamber stays suspended, while other parts sink. The suspended solids are skimmed off and sent down to the city’s other water reclamation plant at Wildcat Hill.
In the next step, the liquid enters a secondary chamber where it’s further clarified. It then flows indoors where it’s treated with ultraviolet light for a third step of purification.
Jim poured the water into a wineglass, and it looked good enough to drink. In fact, it’s graded as Class A+, but under Arizona regulations reclaimed water can’t yet be used as potable, or drinking, water.
Residents had lots of questions: Is the reclaimed water okay to put on plants? Is it safe to drink? Using reclaimed water for drinking will take getting over the “yuck” factor, said Erin Young, the city’s water conservation manager. She noted that Arizona is devising regulations that might make that a possibility.
The Rio de Flag plant can treat up to four million gallons of wastewater each day. In summer, nearly all the reclaimed water is spoken for –to irrigate fields, parks, and golf courses, some residences, and for industrial uses. In winter, the city sells excess reclaimed water to the Arizona Snowbowl for snowmaking. A certain percentage also goes back into the Rio. According to the city, reclaimed water accounts for about 20 percent of Flagstaff’s total water use.
Next time you see those purple pipes and signs indicating reclaimed water, it will have a whole new meaning.
A Big STEM City Thank You to Rose Houk for this post! And to Jim Huchel and Erin Young of the City of Flagstaff for this engaging and educational tour!
Ms. Wertz - Teacher Feature - December 2016
Kathryn is committed to the Scientists in the Classroom program at SMS, founded and run by 8th grade science educator Jillian Worssam. This program has two components - a one-on-one mentoring program for the 7th and 8th grade Honors Science students, and a classroom business-engagement program for all other science classes. This partnership program has expanded each year since Jillian began it four years ago, and is based on businesses, government agencies, and non-profits that are willing to share their STEM and work expertise with 6th - 8th grade students.
Kathryn presently has five STEM partners! This means she has to do some juggling with her classes to keep them all on track when she has different partners coming into each class on different days, but she claims it is well worth it for what her students gain from these STEM partners!
Judy Tincher with the Arizona Conservation Corps has been a partner with Kathryn for the past three years. Her team visited the classroom to introduce what the Arizona Conservation Corps is all about. Students got to participate in a "Safety Briefing" and were even introduced to some of the equipment worn and used by actual Corps members! Warner's Nursery has also been a Scientists in the Classroom Partner for the psat three years and is working with one of Kathryn's classes this year.
The Museum of Northern Arizona is a new partner this year. Meg Adakai, a STEM VISTA Member, and Phyllis Wolfskill (a former educator at SMS!) included an introduction to the museum and a lesson on careful observation and excavation of artifacts during their first visit to their partner class. The next month, Dr. Larry Stevens led the students in a discussion of ecological food pyramids and the students built a food pyramid with local species.
Lisa Winters is also a STEM VISTA Member, doing citizen science with Grand Canyon Trust, another new Scientists in the Classroom partner. Lisa is not new to the program though as she represented Arizona Game and Fish as a partner last year! Lisa also participates in the one-one-one mentorship program and she had her mentee, Brook Bellar, help her present on healthy watersheds to her new partner class.
The Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (EcoSS) at NAU is a new partner as well. ECOSS created an Education Outreach Committee and have presented at the Festival of Science as well as other venues, teaching studnerts about ecology and ecosystems. Dr. Ben Koch, and graduate students Alessandra Zuniga and Adam Siders led the students to a site where they could begin a decomposition study on a variety of natural materials.
Thank you Kathryn for your educational leadership, and thank you to all her STEM Partners working with Kathryn to increase student engagement and understanding about STEM concepts and careers!
Guest post by Lisa Winters, formerly of Arizona Game and Fish, and presently a STEM VISTA Member with the Grand Canyon Trust
The best ten days of the year, the Flagstaff Festival of Science, is in full swing. And this year, we had the first BioBlitz at Francis Short Pond! Organized by Rocky Mountain Research Station, Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, and Friends of the Rio de Flag, the BioBlitz was an opportunity for students, teachers, and the general public to work in collaboration with biologists, naturalists, and other scientists to complete a biological inventory of the plants, animals, and organisms that live in or near the pond.
Thanks to Lisa Winters, left, of Grand Canyon Trust, and Zack Zdinak, right, of Life Drawing and Education
Stations were set up around the pond that collected information about water quality, aquatic insects, birds, plants, and fish. Over 260 students from Marshall Elementary, Flagstaff Junior Academy, and Mount Elden Middle School measured the temperature and dissolved oxygen of the water, used microscopes to identify the aquatic invertebrates they caught, wandered the pond in search of common plants, used binoculars to spot ducks and red-winged blackbirds, fished for rainbow trout, and then pulled together what they learned by constructing a life cycle diagram of an organism of their choice. In the afternoon, many community members got the same chance to explore this unique ecosystem in their backyard while contributing to the survey data collection.
Photos show Alice patiently fishing, the excitement of the catch, and measuring for data prior to release!
Additional partners of the event include the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Section, The Museum of Northern Arizona, Grand Canyon Trust, local illustrator Zack Zdinak, and more! The event was made possible through a generous grant from the National Geographic Education Foundation and the AZ Game and Fish Heritage Grant. Thank you all for the great contributions to citizen science and education in Flagstaff!
Guest Post by Moran Henn, Executive Director,
Willow Bend Environmental Education Center
What better way to help celebrate Colorado River Days than kiss some fish!?
That’s just what some lucky kids (and a few brave parents) got to do
thanks to Colorado River Days’ Annual Fish and Watersheds Science Saturday
at Willow Bend event.
This free, all ages event focused on the importance of the Colorado River,
healthy watersheds, and native fish. Participants engaged in hands-on
activities organized by numerous event partners who came together to make
the event a great success.
Activities included making paper watersheds with the AZ Trail Association,
creating nature journals to record drawings and stamps of wildlife and
nature with the Sierra Club, watching the far reaching effects of water-flow
on a 3D terrain model and learning how long objects last in ecosystems
when left behind with Oak Creek Watershed Council, making origami boats
and rowing in a real river ducky with Grand Canyon Youth, learning about
the ecology of aquatic worms and snails with Friends of the Rio, seeing
the effects of rain on the watershed with Willow Bend, and the highlight
of the event... meeting live native fish up close and in person with the
USGS aquatic lab team. Over 4 species of native fish were on display,
including the Humpback Chub and Rainbow Trout.
The public experienced, in a fun and engaging way, just how important the Colorado River is, not just to Flagstaff, but to everyone who depends on healthy flowing rivers.
Information on other Colorado River Days activities can be found here, and consider subscribing to Willow Bend's newsletter to stay informed about upcoming Science Saturday programs and other events.
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator