Reinventing aquatic science at Danbury High School through B-WET funding

The community of Danbury, Connecticut has long faced issues with pollution, destroyed habitats, and limited riverside recreational spaces within the impaired Still River Watershed. In response, Danbury High School offered an aquatic science course to its students, but educators weren’t satisfied that it was quite living up to its full potential. They wanted a way to integrate more locally relevant environmental and watershed challenges, include student-driven solutions to improve watershed issues, and increase student exposure to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

Students canoe on a lake. Their canoes are filled with aquatic plants they appear to have removed.

(Image credit: Katherine Scott/HVA Connections, Peggy Stewart/Western Connecticut State University)

Western Connecticut State University received funding from the Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) grants program to retool the local Danbury High School’s aquatic science course to better meet the needs of the educators and students. The B-WET funding provided resources to train teachers to apply Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) into the aquatic science course curriculum by integrating locally relevant authentic investigations and stewardship. 

To date, Western Connecticut State University has trained nine Danbury High School educators to integrate MWEEs into the instructional design. Students also engaged with scientists, engineers, and community leaders to increase exposure to STEM careers, positive community experiences, and job opportunities previously never considered. Ten students were selected to continue their stewardship engagement through a paid summer internship through a Summer Watershed Steward Ambassador Program. 

The newly retooled aquatic science course annually taken by around 250 students incorporates new student-led components, including a “Watershed Restoration Symposium” that showcases student knowledge and empathy for the environment. The 2021 symposium focused on student ideas about how to improve storm drains. “I love some of the ideas,” said Theodora Pinou, professor at Western Connecticut State University. “I just hope that we start seeing some really wonderful storm drains around Danbury.” Summer interns also removed invasive species in the Still River Watershed and transformed storm drains around the university and high school into native plant rain gardens. All of this work helps to improve water quality in the Still River Watershed and empower students.