By Leah Sander
WINONA LAKE — Jefferson Elementary School students’ request to install pet waste stations at Winona Lake’s Cherry Creek has come to fruition.
Students and staff at Jefferson Elementary, along with community leaders, celebrated the installation of two pet waste stations at Cherry Creek on Wednesday, July 7.
They contain bags to collect the waste and a container to depose of it. Students also placed signs along the creek encouraging people to take care of pet waste.
The idea for the project came about earlier this year after The Watershed Foundation had tested water at Cherry Creek and reported the existence of E. coli.
Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Darci Zolman then passed that information along to Jefferson teachers.
The district already has a working relationship with the school. Jefferson is one of four elementary schools in the Warsaw Community Schools system that has extra STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes as part of its curriculum. Studying water quality is part of that.
“The Soil and Water Conservation District, we come down here with all the students twice a year and do water testing and monitoring for the macroinvertebrates in there,” said Zolman. “So we did some extra programming with the students to kind of give them some more background knowledge on E. coli and help kind of kickstart the program.”
Jefferson fourth-grade teacher Angela Luecke then helped spearhead the school project, which saw all the fourth and sixth-grade students studying the issue and working toward a solution.
“I’ve been trained in project-based learning, and so when they came to us with this problem, we’re like OK, we’ve got this template,” she said. “We took a couple weeks and put it together and then we had about three or four weeks in the classroom where we researched and then put all of it together.”
They concluded that pet owners were not picking up pet waste, which ended up being washed into Cherry Creek, causing the E. coli buildup.
As part of the project, some of Sandy McClellan’s sixth-grade students made a video and presented it to the Winona Lake Town Council at its May meeting.
The council agreed to help with the request. The Watershed Foundation then paid for the purchase of the pet waste stations.
McClellan said her students got a lot out of the project.
“Levi (Jones, one of her students) had said to me one day … ‘Mrs. McClellan, you always talk to us about how we’re the future and it’s up to us to take care of things,'” she said. “He said, ‘I feel like we’re starting.'”
Her students also wrote letters to State Rep. Craig Snow, R-Warsaw, and State Sen. Stacey Donato, R-Logansport, related to the issue and created educational brochures as well as the signs.
Some of her students shared with InkFreeNews thoughts on working on the project.
“I learned a lot about E. coli and I didn’t even know like it could cause diseases to some people, so it just felt good to help out with that,” said Jocelyn Luecke.
“I think it’s pretty nice to see that we’re actually making change as sixth-graders,” said Jones.
Adults involved with the project expressed how grateful they are that students got to work for change at a young age.
“It’s as about as hands-on as you can get,” said Angela Luecke. “They get to give back and you know kids like to give back. … So they absolutely loved it and once they realized what we were doing, we couldn’t stop them.”
“You’re giving adult roles and ideas to these kids, which is what we want to do,” she continued. “It’s great learning and it’s interactive learning. ”