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Streaming Young Minds into Stewardship

Grace Pierstorff, Big Sky Watershed Corps Member

Bitter Root Water Forum, Hamilton

Date: August 26, 2020

When the day arrived to teach a group of 25 Ravalli County seventh-graders for the first time, my mind raced, double checking that I had everything ready. I ran through my prepared intro, the material I would go over, and the tugging reminder that the watershed vernacular would need to be adjusted for middle schoolers.

As students began to trickle in to the project-adorned science room for the Earth Stewardship Program lesson, I did my best to smile, appear friendly, and not look like another boring presenter. Those 48 minutes spent with them were not necessarily picture-perfect. The lesson left me feeling frazzled. I wasn’t able to fully command their attention, they weren’t always on task, and I couldn’t tell whether they had learned what a watershed was by the end.

Darby 7 th graders gather around the physical watershed model with Grace, adding in elevation, tributaries, town and mountain names, and water flow directions.

After the students left for lunch, I began collecting the physical model they had constructed. Defeat lingered in the air. Picking up their worksheets on what they initially thought a watershed was, I saw many had drawn a shed full of water. A very common idea. But flipping one over to the post-lesson side, I was amazed at the accurate drawing and description of a watershed. Seeing their growth from the beginning to the end of the lesson, I knew they had all learned a few things. Even if they hadn’t shown it directly during the session, I had the evidence on those worksheets.

I returned to our local middle schools many times throughout the winter. Every time I left, a smile, whether tired or energized, was plastered on my face. The feeling of passing on knowledge to another generation and watching them connect in a new way to their environment was well worth it.

Leaving Wisconsin to teach seventh-graders in Montana about watershed health, as a Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) member, was not always in my agenda or five-year plan. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Environmental Biology, I felt the world was my oyster while also a giant puzzle. I knew I wanted to make an impact with whatever I did, and grow outside of my comfort zone. The work I accomplished at the Bitter Root Water Forum has achieved that.

Side A of a worksheet features the drawing of a shed of water from a student, when asked what they think a watershed is based on previous knowledge.
Side B of a worksheet features a drawing of a watershed, with gravity pulling water down mountains and higher elevations into larger bodies of water.


My service with the Forum also includes working with volunteers on restoration projects and helping manage various community events throughout the year. At the beginning of the year, I couldn’t have fathomed the interactions I would have, the people I would meet, and the ways I would grow to understand rural communities.

Having an overall learning experience for the seventh graders that day was the goal – opening their minds to things they’d never learned about or heavily considered. They didn’t need to remember all of it. Starting the conversation on watersheds and water flow was the intention. Whether they continue to live in the Bitterroot Valley or move anywhere else in the world, they’ll be able to be a better steward of the land they live on. To know that I had a direct impact on this as a BSWC member has made my service term even more rewarding.

Grace Pierstorff’s service with the Bitter Root Water Forum is sponsored in part by the MWCC Watershed Fund and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Big Sky Watershed Corps is an AmeriCorps program that places young professionals in Montana’s watershed communities to make a measurable difference in local conservation initiatives. Members carry out watershed research, project planning and implementation, education and outreach, and community engagement activities.