Coming Soon to a Classroom Near You: River Restoration, Captivating Creek Adventures, and Miraculous Mollusks

Cincinnati-based nonprofit encourages area educators to submit applications for Mussels in the Classroom and River Explorer programs for the 2023-24 school year

Looking for opportunities for your junior scientists?

With successful education programs, since 2005, dedicated to protecting and improving the water quality and ecology of the Ohio River and its entire watershed, Cincinnati-based nonprofit Ohio River Foundation (ORF) is offering its popular hands-on, STEM environmental education programs to area students again this year and encouraging educators to submit applications for the 2023-24 school year.

Along with improving academic STEM skills, the goal of these programs is to help kids—the next generation of environmental stewards, voters, and government leaders—foster a lifetime interest in protecting the environment in their communities and beyond. In 2022 more than 5,100 students were able to take part in ORF’s Mussels in the Classroom and River Explorer programs.

Applications for both programs will be accepted on a rolling basis and can be submitted on ORF’s website. So far, more than 58,000 students have participated in ORF’s education programs.

Mussels in the Classroom  

Purple Wartybacks? Pigtoes? Fatmuckets? Monkeyface? No, not fictitious creatures from a fantasy novel, just the very realand importantriver species visiting area classrooms as part of Ohio River Foundation’s Mussels in the Classroom (MIC) program. 

These small but mighty creatures have an important job to do. Through this program, students get the chance to play host to and learn about freshwater mussels and their importance to river ecosystems. ORF launched MIC, the first program of its kind, in 2017. Since then, nearly 10,000 students in the Greater Cincinnati, Greater Columbus, and Greater Lexington areas have experienced the program.

The program kicks off with a 45-minute program delivered by a knowledgeable ORF educator, who describes the freshwater mussels’ unusual characteristics and significance to their ecosystems. Although they clean water, acting as a natural filter for our waterways, most people know little about these important animals. Many species are threatened or endangered. Following the program, mussels remain in the classroom for two weeks so students can care for and study them.

“Students fall in love with freshwater mussels during this program! They start with little to no knowledge of this complex and highly threatened species that share our local waterways and end with new knowledge and passion for protecting our watershed and the amazing creatures living in it,” said Melinda Voss, ORF’s Education Programs Manager. 

MIC is open to grades K-12, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis on the program’s webpage. Availability is Sept. 1 through Dec. 15 and Jan. 15 through June 1.

River Explorer

In addition to MIC, ORF offers its perennially popular River Explorer program in Greater Cincinnati and Columbus. The trips let students be junior scientists for a day as they do real-world, hands-on water quality assessments while wading in our local creeks and streams. Students use real scientific equipment while learning about the ecology and importance of the Ohio River and its watershed. Open to grades four through 12, River Explorer includes three hands-on stations:

  1. Catching, examining and identifying fish;
  2. Collecting and identifying macroinvertebrates; and
  3. River chemistry (grades six through 12) or water use and the water cycle (grades four and five).

High School students also take part in habitat assessments as part of their day, and ORF educators touch on issues such as water pollution and environmental stewardship with all students. 

The River Explorer program is offered in September, October, April, and May. Greater Cincinnati field trips take place at Nisbet Park and Lake Isabella Park in Loveland; Sycamore Park in Batavia; Sharon Woods Park in Sharonville; Pioneer Park in Covington; and Guilford Covered Bridge Park in Guildford, Indiana. Columbus programs are at Highbanks MetroPark and Gahanna Friendship Park.

Applications for River Explorer field trips are accepted on a rolling basis on the program’s web page.

Support for ORF education programs is provided by the Charles Dater Foundation, Toyota Motor Manufacturing-Kentucky, Honda Manufacturing-The Gardner Family Foundation, PNC Charitable Trusts-Josephine Schell Russell Trust, The Marge & Charles Schott Foundation, Valvoline, Inc., Harrison Family Foundation, Andrew Jergens Foundation, and Thomas Anthony Sullivan Foundation.

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