Stewards of the stream

Posted on

A group of elementary school students is wiser about their local water thanks to an innovative program that connects kids, curiosity, and curriculum together to better understand and protect the local environment.

Wildsight’s EcoStewards program allows students to really dig into a topic — they get multiple classroom sessions with a professional environmental educator, field trips, and passion projects that allow students to translate knowledge into action.

Carmen Gallina’s Grade 6 class in Cranbrook’s St. Mary’s Catholic School explored the subject of water for their program. 

Joseph Creek is Cranbrook’s main waterway; it winds through town before joining the St. Mary’s River. Along its path, it frames the edge of the school.

“With Joseph Creek flowing right by their school, students were motivated to learn more about it and how they can protect it,” shares Wildsight educator Patty Kolesnichenko.

With Patty as their guide, the class studied the physical and chemical properties of Joseph Creek, looked at life in the water and learned how to test for turbidity, pH, temperature, nitrogen and phosphates — all important for determining water quality.

“Students learned about the importance of clean, cold water flowing in Joseph Creek, the water cycle, stormwater, erosion and how riparian areas (the meeting points between water and land) help filter water coming from the local area entering the creek [trees, vegetation etc.],” Patty explains. 

The class visited the local watershed upstream of Joseph Creek with the City of Cranbrook’s Water Operations crew; they saw the channel that diverts water from three local creeks (Joseph, Baker and Gold creeks), the Phillips Reservoir (which stores Cranbrook’s water) and Idlewild Park/Dam which was the original water reservoir for Cranbrook.

“My favourite part of the Wildsight program was learning that these creeks have to provide water for 23,000 people in Cranbrook and this has a really big impact on the watershed and polluting it makes it worse,” reports one student.

They also went on a walk with Stewart Wilson, legendary retired teacher and environmental water steward, who shared his enthusiasm and local knowledge of Joseph Creek.

The class learned about stormwater and the water/carbon cycle, and built mini water filters using plastic bottles and natural materials.

After all that water-based learning, the kids divided into groups to investigate even more! Some looked at the impact of flora and fauna in riparian zones. Others explored how the City of Cranbrook conserves water. One group integrated local animals into a story of water they could share, while another discussed how young people and their families can be good stewards of our water resources. 

Students then visited other classrooms to present their findings. They have also created story posters based on the themes of water conservation, stewardship, water cycles and healthy riparian areas. The posters will be displayed along the Joseph Creek Trail (Rotary Trail) near their school this spring.

“I really liked how invested the students became in learning about our water and how to protect it. They were eager to share their findings with other classes in the school, and now look forward to sharing their knowledge with the community,” Carmen says.

She says thanks to EcoStewards, her students have become more aware of environmental issues at both local and global levels.

“They become stewards to protect resources and teach community members their knowledge,” Carmen says.

One student’s reflections sum up the learning, and why we continue to bring environmental education programs into classrooms across the Columbia Basin: “I learned to take care of our water and treat it with respect and use it carefully ’cause we do not have that much … We learned so much about water and how we can take care of it.”

We would like to thank the Community Foundation of the Kootenay Rockies, Consecon Foundation, Copernicus Education Products, Hamber Foundation, Keefer Ecological Services, the Province of British Columbia, TD Friends of the Environment, and all of our individual donors for making this program possible!

Learn more


EcoStewards offers an excellent opportunity to showcase how environmental education can effectively and successfully provide opportunities for 21st century learning, including inquiry, action and place-based learning.Learn more 
Fuelled by a deep belief that water is our most precious resource, Jim and Laura Duncan dedicated their passion, time and later careers to inspiring…Support water education