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December 22, 2014
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Every drop counts Students study water conservation, paint rain barrels

Wallenpaupack High School students Amber Balch, left, Antonio DiSilvestre, Danielle Spewak, Danielle Wontor and Tanner Abbott, pose with a rain barrel painted by the school’s Environmental Activities Club.
Photo by Billy Templeton


PIKE AND WAYNE COUNTIES — Linda Lohner teaches biology at the Wallenpaupack Area High School in Pike County, where she and her fellow science teachers are currently developing a new curriculum.Every Wednesday, after the final bell rings, Lohner and a group of students who are passionate about the environment and outdoor activities meet in her classroom to learn about and experience the natural world outside of school.

Although the knowledge students glean from this club may not appear on any state test (though this new curriculum is careful to meet or exceed the demands of the latest standards), members of the Environmental Activities Club under Lohner’s tutelage become well-prepared to participate in the annual Pike/Wayne Envirothon competition, through hikes, camping and fishing trips, bird- and reptile-watching excursions.

When the Pike County Conservation District, along with the Pike/Wayne Conservation Partnership, received a PA Department of Environmental Protection Environmental Education grant to help educate students on water conservation issues and design rain barrels (www.pikeconservation.org/EveryDropCounts.htm), Lohner jumped at the opportunity. In a creative partnership with the Art Club, students in Lohner’s Environmental Activities Club brainstormed ideas and painted barrels. These will be auctioned off as a fundraiser as part of the Every Drop Counts! Project coordinated by the Pike County Conservation District.

Barrels designed by students at Honesdale, Wallenpaupack and Delaware Valley High Schools and Canaan Christian Academy are currently on display at many local businesses. (For a map of businesses and a list of where rain barrels are located throughout Pike and Wayne counties, see tinyurl.com/p822btf.) The colorful works of art range from underwater ocean scenes to a field of blooming flowers. High school senior Danielle Spewak, a member of both the art and environmental clubs, believes art and nature share a tight bond. “When you think about the environment, you associate it with beauty in its purest form.” This connection forms the foundation for the work done on the barrels and, they hope, will encourage folks from the community not just to bid on their designs, but also to utilize the barrel at their home or business. Kristina DiGiampaolo is excited to create something useful for farmers, but also “something beautiful that they can stare at that represents what they are trying to protect.”

Rain barrels are used to collect and store rainwater runoff from roofs to be used for many environmental reasons. This water is used to wash cars, water gardens or in agricultural operations, especially in places where rainfall is scarce. Rainwater collection is an ancient practice that is seeing newfound attention among conservationists all across the globe. Many attribute this to the rapidly changing climate and challenges that are associated with maintaining a steady water source in times of extremes. “Even though we have a lot of snow now,” explains Mrs. Lohner, “that doesn’t mean we’re not going to have a drought in July or August, so if you can collect what little rain there is, you’ll have it when you need it.”

Although it is now beyond a doubt among climate scientists that the climate is significantly shifting, public acceptance of this reality lags. Currently, many public schools face pushback against teaching the latest climate science in the classroom. Some of the students in Lohner’s environmental club experienced disapproval from community members when trying to share ways to conserve home energy or resources. Recently, an outraged person called into a local television station after a segment aired about the rain barrel project to complain about the school wasting tax dollars and time on unimportant issues. Danielle Spewak was eager to clear up this misunderstanding. “We meet after school on our own time. All of the materials were paid for from a grant, even the paint we used.”

Even in the face of such opposition, the resolve of each student was obvious. The passion and enthusiasm to make our tiny part of the world a better place was palpable in Lohner’s classroom.

All are welcome to bid on the rain barrels between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 26 at the Hawley Earth Fest in Hawley, PA.

[Editor’s note: This spring, the Pike/Wayne Conservation Partnership will host a series of educational programs on topics including water conservation, non-point source pollution, best management practices to assist with stormwater management, water quality and testing, native plants of our region, green cleaning and home energy efficiency tips. For a program list, see www.pikeconservation.org/EveryDropCountsPrograms.htm.]