SHAWNEE — Shawnee High School environmental science teacher Greg Mayberry is always looking for fun ways to engage his students.
Four years ago, Mayberry found a way to get kids outside and in the field. He regularly leads a group of students to monitor Delaware Creek water quality.
The creek is four miles downstream from a poultry farm in Johnston County, and when Mayberry started monitoring it as part of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission's Blue Thumb program, he expected the worst.
“We were expecting the water quality to be less than it is given the location near a poultry farm, but we've not found the elevated numbers of E. coli and other things you would expect,” he said.
Blue Thumb teaches volunteers how to monitor streams by collecting data and submitting it to the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. The goal is simple: to get as many people out monitoring water quality as possible.
“We only have so many sets of eyes,” Blue Thumb Coordinator Cheryl Cheadle said. “In many cases, the volunteer is the only source of monitoring for a stream.”
A training session is planned at Oklahoma City University on Jan. 25-26 for those interested in becoming Blue Thumb volunteers. The training is free and open to the public.
Cheadle said volunteers come from all walks of life.
“We have a very broad appeal,” Cheadle said. “We have retired folks, landowners who have a stream that runs through their property, municipal employees and college students.”
Cheadle said part of the appeal of Blue Thumb is that it is very hands-on for volunteers who collect data and write reports that are submitted to the state's biologists and water quality experts.
“People seem to like getting outdoors,” Cheadle said. “With Blue Thumb, volunteers work in teams, so if one member is good at testing, the other might write the report and record results. We let people dictate their own level of involvement.”
Mayberry takes his students to Delaware Creek on Saturdays. He doesn't offer extra credit because he wants students who are truly interested in the subject to be involved. Still, he hasn't had much trouble getting students to meet at school on Saturday mornings for a 100-mile bus trip to the creek. Mayberry was able to secure a school bus for the once-a-month trip.
“It's very rewarding to see students light up when they can see a practical end to what they learn in the classroom,” he said. “We have at least half a dozen who never miss no matter what time of year it is. I think they enjoy it. It gets them out of the classroom and learning in a real world environment.”
As a volunteer, Mayberry said the experience has been rewarding personally. He views it as part of a wider goal of educating the public about the environment and something just about anyone can do.
“I would certainly encourage anyone who is interested to check it out,” Mayberry said of Blue Thumb. “You don't have to be in great shape to participate, and you don't need a background in science. The training will cover everything. It's just a good way for individuals to get involved.”
For more information on Blue Thumb and the upcoming training sessions at Oklahoma City University, call 522-4738 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.