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School's out(side) at Roanoke Cement

4/13/2016 - Getting kids to put their cell phones away for a few minutes is difficult enough for a parent, but to get them to literally “jump in the creek” to study water quality takes a village. Roanoke Cement Company (RCC) tapped into the local brain trust of water knowledge and ecology to teach Central Academy Middle Schools’ sixth grade students – all 130 of them – what it takes to improve water quality at the environment at Catawba Creek. 
During a two-day event, held at RCC’s mitigation site, RCC assembled the “dream team” of environmental and aquatic teachers. 
“When we were creating this agenda,” says Lindsey Layman, Environmental Analyst from RCC, “we all agreed that education is the best way to improve local water quality. And we knew we had to start with younger students because the instruction resonates with them…it had to be hands on. We could not have offered this level of ecological education without the participation of each of these important local organizations. ” 
Teachers from Central Academy Middle School, Mrs. Furlong and Mrs. Moran, worked directly with Tim Miller of Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) to coordinate all of the activities. Students hiked into the creek area and were split into smaller groups to have better access and to be more easily rotated through each discipline. Subject areas included Aquatic Macro Invertebrate Sampling, Visual Stream Assessment and Testing, Tree Species Inventory, Soil Survey and, of course, Lunch. 
For example, in the Macro Invertebrate Sampling lesson, the stream is sampled for pollution tolerant and pollution sensitive macro invertebrates or “critters.” Once sampled, all the “critters” are separated into categories such as mayflies, stoneflies, etc. and tallied. This results in an assessment score that indicates the health of the stream.
“We cannot recreate this type of learning inside the classroom,” says Mrs. Erica Furlong, Central Academy Middle schoolteacher who was on-site. “The students have enjoyed studying water in-person and through their own analysis have determined its good health.” RCC, Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District and the Central Academy Middle School are working to offer the ‘Outdoor Academy’ every year. 
“Education is a big part of our mission at Mountain Castles SWCD as we strive to reduce nonpoint source pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and beyond,” says Tim Miller, Education/Outreach Coordinator. “We want to create fun and engaging opportunities that help students feel connected to their local watersheds.” Mountain Castles SWCD has recently received a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund (from sales of the "Bay plate") that will help fund middle school outings at RCC for this fall and next spring.
Roanoke Cement has established its environmental steward "bona fides" through year after year of accomplishments and recognitions. Most notably, they have earned recognition by the EPA with an Energy Star® Award for nine consecutive years since 2007; honored by the Virginia Division of Mineral Mining in its Reclamation Awards; certified, and recertified, by the Wildlife Habitat Council; presented with an Honorary Lifetime Membership Award from the Appalachian Trail Club and won the Overall Environmental Excellence and Runner Up for the Outreach Award for the Portland Cement Association Energy & Environmental Awards – all in the last two years.