Tennessee Student Environmental Alliance Connects Children with Nature

By Julie Johnson

Students in eight Chattanooga-area schools are helping to clean up the greater Tennessee River watershed. Focusing their efforts on the “Ridge to River” system, the students learn about their water and the effects of pollution on its quality, from the small streams at the tops of mountains to the large rivers in the valley. 

Mary Beth Sutton, executive director for the program, started teaching integrated watershed management to students in the Caribbean in 2004. The goal was to empower students to be leaders in the protection and restoration of their local environment.

Caribbean students now manage island programs largely on their own, testing water quality in their bays and inlets, assessing the health of mangrove fields and coral reefs, and starting environmental clubs in their schools and churches. One Dominican student even appeared before her town council, presenting an idea for a village-wide composting program.

“Environmental concern is ingrained in them by the time they are adults,” Yasmin Francis, a Caribbean SEA summer camp leader said. “So that they can actively demonstrate their concern for the environment and also teach others.”

Sutton hopes to continue the success of watershed preservation with the burgeoning projects in the Tennessee Valley. TenneSEA students have conducted quarterly water testing with equipment donated by the Tennessee American Water Company, and are working with established community groups to conduct river clean-up days.

For more information about the water program, visit www.caribbean-sea.org

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