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Our Gem: The Confluence Project is making science fun

| May 15, 2022 1:00 AM

The Our Gem Collaboratives’ mission is to preserve lake health and protect water quality by promoting community awareness of local resources through education, outreach and stewardship. There is a unique program for high school students that embodies the kind of educational outreach the Our Gem Collaborative strives to achieve. This program not only immerses students in local water resource issues but allows them to get outside and actually experience their local environment. The Confluence Project (TCP) is a year-long program that connects students to North Idaho’s lakes, streams, mountains and aquifer through a combination of on-site studies and classroom work.

There weren’t programs like this in schools in the past. This program is unique to North Idaho. The curriculum was created by graduate students at the University of Idaho. The TCP committee works with teachers in the Panhandle to prepare students with this curriculum, and then they accompany them on field trips offered throughout the year. Scientific experts help students collect accurate data and work with them to understand its importance. Partners from University of Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Panhandle Health and IdaH2O team up to promote hands-on experience, field data collection and higher education degrees in science.

Students that participate in TCP learn about water resource issues in the classroom and then go out in the field to put those skills to work. They go to a local river and test the water quality by collecting bugs! Who doesn’t love bugs? In the winter, they go to a local ski hill where they snowshoe to measure snowpack. Once the science is done, they get to enjoy their environment. It is so fulfilling to watch these kids buckle down and get serious while taking their scientific measurements and then let loose when they are done by throwing snowballs or sliding down the hill. Science can be fun!

As the year comes to an end, these students utilize all of the information they have learned to dig deeper into local water issues. The students pair up and work on research projects relevant to what they have experienced throughout the year. They are encouraged to reach out to local professionals to help them formulate their research questions and execute their research. They use the tools they have learned to collect and analyze data. This all culminates in a professional scientific conference called the Youth Water Summit. Close to 100 volunteer judges from the scientific community contribute to the success of this event and 2022 marks the eleventh year of The Confluence Project (TCP). Since its’ inception, we have reached over 3,000 students in North Idaho.

This year’s Youth Water Summit is May 25, at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be a keynote speaker Shanny Spang Gion, a visiting Tribal Scholar from the University of Idaho who is working to identify ways in which institutions of higher education can facilitate indigenous student education, increase enrollment, and increase the success rates of existing students. There will also be previous TCP students who have gone on to acquire degrees in natural resources speaking about their journey in higher education. As one past student noted, Emma Arman, “The Confluence Project was the selling point, that’s when I realized I wanted to be involved in environmental science all the time andI wanted to be a communicator, someone who bridges gaps and could be an advocate.” New this year, the Youth Water Summit will have projects open to the public to view between 1:30-2 p.m. Come check out what unique solutions these students present and support this amazing program. For more information go to https://www.uidaho.edu/cda/cwrc/confluence.

“We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” — FDR

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The Our Gem Coeur d’Alene Lake Collaborative is a team of committed and passionate professionals working to preserve lake health and protect water quality by promoting community awareness of local water resources through education, outreach and stewardship. Our Gem includes local experts from the University of Idaho Community Water Resource Center, Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber of Commerce and CDA 2030. EPA assisted the Our Gem Collaborative with this article.