Saturday, April 06, 2002

River now a local lesson

School makes Ohio major part of curriculum

By Anna Guido
Enquirer Contributor

        Students at a small private school downtown are taking a journey along the Ohio River.

[photo] Cymmone Sanders, a third-grader at the Otto Armleder Memorial Education Center, pours water into a cup filled with soil to see how erosion works. Her teacher is Cathy Cepress.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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        It's not just any river trek. Their cross-curriculum study of the Midwest waterway will culminate in the next school year with a fully developed Web site devoted solely to the Ohio River.

        The school — Otto Armleder Memorial Education Center, at Ninth and Elm streets — went online in January with its “Ohio River Explorers” Web site (, taking the unique approach of inviting other schools along the river to add to the site.

        To date, three Tristate schools — Locust Corner and New Richmond elementaries in New Richmond and Cannelton (Ind.) Elementary — have expressed interest in participating.

        “I think it's great,” said Jeanne Ison, spokeswoman for the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), a watchdog organization that monitors water quality and studies the health of the river.

        “I've seen Web sites about the Ohio River, but what (the students) are doing — approaching schools up and down the river for input — is really unique.”

        Armleder, a downtown campus of Symmes Township-based Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, enrolls 130 pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

        The school's Ohio River Web site is the brainchild of technology teacher Barbara Bodley and science resource teacher Cathy Cepress.

        “I wanted to find a way for our students to interact with other students outside our community," Ms. Bodley said. "This is the vehicle.”

        Why the Ohio River?

    The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) wants to expand the Ohio River's role as a teaching tool. Among the agency's efforts:
    • Throughout the Ohio River basin, students (“river watchers”) will take samples from the river and report the results to ORSANCO. If a problem is detected, an environmentalist will be consulted.
    • The agency has an 1,800-gallon aquarium that it takes to schools, festivals and other sites to showcase the diversity of life in the Ohio River.
    • In 2003, ORSANCO will begin operating a floating classroom, which will travel the Ohio River to different states and invite students to come down for field trips.
    • The Ohio River flows through or borders six states — Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.
    • There are 20 dams and 49 power-generating facilities on the river. The dams provide a 9-foot minimum depth for navigation.
    • More than 200 million tons of cargo are transported on the river each year, with coal being the No. 1 commodity.
    • About 120 species of fish live in the river and its tributaries.
        “Our third-graders are studying watersheds. The second grade is studying structures such as bridges,” Ms. Bodley said. “Several others are studying plants and animals, so we're tying in all of these things that are found along the river into one project.”

        It's also beneficial for students to study what is in their immediate environment, Ms. Bodley added.

        “Because the Ohio River is close, it's easier for them to make application with the experiences of living it.”

        In a recent classroom experiment, the results of which will be posted on the Web site, third-graders learned about erosion and how streams are formed.

        Students poured water over packed mixtures of dirt, rocks and sand. During the experiment, teacher Frank McGoron asked students what they noticed about the water's path.

        “How did it know where to go?” he asked.

        Tylan Ramsey, 9, had the answer about the path of least resistance.

        “If there was too much dirt and sand in the way, the water would just go around it,” Tylan said. “It would go to a place where there wasn't a lot of dirt and rocks.”

        When students complete this unit of study on ponds and rivers in May, they will take a field trip to Sawyer Point and to the Newport Aquarium.

        Ms. Ison of ORSANCO said Otto Armleder School's efforts to learn first-hand from the river should be commended.

        “The Ohio River is such a great natural resource and a lot of people don't realize what it brings,” Ms. Ison said. “It has a bad reputation and we're trying to turn that around. This effort will help us get this message out.”

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