When they unloaded and gathered in the front room at LEAD Agency, it was obvious they had done their homework, as they had been studying Tar Creek, the history, health impacts from exposures, the politics and every other topic associated with the site. They had studied, learned, prepared presentations in small groups and already shared them in their classes in their school BEFORE they came to see our site.
They reminded me of the integrated service learning that had occurred at Miami High School in the environmental glory days of the Cherokee Volunteer Society and their award winning Tar Creek Project. Back in those days many of the teachers incorporated environmental themes into their curriculum, resulting in deep understanding by the students of those complicated issues.
Every sophomore did a research paper in English, but those years, all the topics were environmental. Recycling for the whole school was taken on by Cathy O’Dell’s math students, most of which became her best Algebra students the next year because they learned that numbers mattered and abstract equations could mean something.
Cori Stotts and Chris Robinson stood up and demanded answers at Governor Keatings’ Tar Creek Task Force hearing. Their voices and the many others who were speaking up made a difference at this site. Wanis Euran thought the issues were important enough he called the New York Times and they sent reporters to cover it. There are many community members living here with a great deal of understanding of what this superfund site is all about, how it got this way and how to write a research paper, essay or poem about it.
The students started three activities, the Toxic Tours, the annual Tar Creek Conferences and the Tar Creek Fish Tournaments, which weren’t real fish tournaments, but more of a music festival of sorts.
Each were cultural events with a dose of science, which can affirm rather than challenge or bore, with festival music, local culture, food and activities people like: entertainment first, science second.
Last year we found learned can be forgotten. Terri Riley was the early elementary art instructor and her students got to learn about Tar Creek with an art project depicting fish living in it now and what one might look like in a clean creek. She had 801 students that September and only one of them knew anything about the creek before they started, but when they finished all did. One teacher spoke up, and a whole lot of children found out very quickly not to play in it and why, and to also know the hope the cleanup can be for their community and the fish that will live there again.
Miami’s Academy is a couple of blocks from our office, and this week Marla Stidham invited me to meet their students and catch them up, too. It got real when their teacher Mr. Morton spoke up saying he actually had caught fish in our wounded creek when he was young. It just is not right to kill a creek and just accept it. Somebody ought to speak up to give voice to hope.
Earth Day will be Saturday April 22. Get your bike ready for what else but the Recycle Tar Creek Bike Ride and Fun Walk. Registration is at the Charles Sills Memorial Park in Commerce at 8 a.m. Bike Rides start at 9 a.m. There are one mile and 20 mile options. Registration fee for the bike ride $25. Fun Walk is Free and starts at 10 a.m. Call for more information 918-542-9399. Musicians welcome, we need their voices, too!
At a site this big, it is going to take many more voices, many more years saying we want this place better, or believe me we will be abandoned again just like those piles were, just like that orange creek has been. So grab your bike, take a ride, have a walk, listen to some music and let’s do this festival.
Respectfully submitted ~ Rebecca Jim