Dr. R. Christian Jones, Director, Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, Environmental Science and Policy, began a long-term “green to clean” partnership in 1984 by collaboratively developing a monitoring plan designed to document algae counts, monitor water quality, fish, invertebrates and aquatic plants in Gunston Cove, downstream from the Noman Cole wastewater treatment plant, which at that time had just implemented a new protocol that removed phosphorus, an essential nutrient for algae growth, from the purified water they returned to the river. This partnership has helped train and launch careers of dozens of students, and paved the way for additional community collaborations, culminating in the creation of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC), and the building of its home, Mason’s Potomac Science Center. For the past seven years, in partnership with Alexandria Renew Enterprises, Dr. Jones’ PEREC team has initiated a more multifaceted study to document water quality and aquatic ecosystem trends in Hunting Creek, downstream of the AlexRenew wastewater treatment plant. Long-term partnerships such as these, and others with Fairfax and Prince William Counties, has fostered mutually beneficial relationships with a multitude of local, state, and national agencies and organizations, while bettering the quality of life for the community.
Originally published in the Washington Post Blogs, June 12, 2012
Flushing: We all do it, mostly without any thought beyond the pipe leading away from our home. But if you follow what spirals out of sight down a toilet or household drain, the end of the line for that human wastewater is the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay for a large portion of Fairfax County residents. In the 1960s, the Potomac was green from the algae and bacteria of human sewage and storm runoff.
Piloting an open-top fishing boat out to designated monitoring locations, Chris Jones, the director of George Mason University’s Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC), monitors today’s wastewater as it re-emerges from pipes and rejoins natural space in Gunston Cove. The center has been working to clean up the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay since 1980. [end of excerpt]
Read the full article on the Washington Post website.
Virginia Mathematics & Science Coalition 2012 “Programs that Work” Award Winner with Prince William County Schools. VMSC recognizes exemplary mathematics, science, and integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs for which there is evidence of a positive impact on student or teacher learning.
Originally published on the Prince William County Public Schools website, May 19, 2011
Chesapeake Bay Education Partners and the Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) Office of Science and Family Life Education
The Chesapeake Bay Education Partners (which includes the Alice Ferguson Foundation, the George Mason University Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, Manassas National Battlefield, Occoquan Bay U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and Prince William Forest National Park) work together to support Prince William County’s environmental education program, “From the Mountains to the Estuary: From the Schoolyard to the Bay.” The partnership provides meaningful watershed experiences for thousands of students, aligned with existing curriculum objectives already taught in the classroom. (The partnership was nominated by Joy Greene, E.A.G.L.E. project coordinator.)
Originally published in The Mason Gazette, April 28, 2011
by Ashley Moss
Seventh grade students from Cooper Middle School gathered at Lake Fairfax in Reston, Va., on April 14 for a series of hands-on science experiments designed to get insight on human impacts on local nature and wildlife. The 130 students worked with a county school science specialist, Mason students and staff from the Potomac Environment Research and Education Center (PEREC) on an outdoor experience called Testing the Waters.
PEREC is a vital part of the university’s Potomac Science Center. Its main purpose is to increase our understanding and stewardship of local ecosystems, watersheds and landscapes through research and teaching local students and communities.
Testing the Waters is part of a larger set of PEREC initiatives that provide meaningful watershed educational experiences for students in Fairfax County and Prince William County Public Schools; the initiative is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In this year alone, nearly 10,000 secondary school students will participate in these educational programs.
Lake Fairfax is a Fairfax County park that spans more than 400 acres and includes several relatively pristine streams. It is prime for student research and learning.
“These experiments tell how healthy the lake is,” says Cindy Smith, education director for PEREC. The students use knowledge they’ve gained from their science curriculum to further determine if a lake is polluted, Smith adds. Using handheld GPS units in the field and mapping programs back at school, students also examined their spatial connection to the Chesapeake Bay.
As interesting as the experiments are, it is the interaction with nature—especially the insect larvae and worms that live in the water–that excites the students the most. “It’s always something that you wouldn’t expect to be the highlight–that’s what thrills the kids,” says Smith. ”They have no idea these critters live here until they flip over a rock or two.”
The program includes a unique opportunity for Mason’s environmental science students to apply their classroom knowledge to extensive work as field scientists and interpreters. The opportunity also allows school-aged students a chance to apply some of the latest technology to studying local ecosystems.
“The purpose is to give students the opportunity to interact with nature and really examine their environment,” says Dann Sklarew, PEREC’s associate director and a professor of environmental science and policy at Mason.
“We hope that this kind of connection, over time,” Sklarew continues, “will be a way for us to instill a stewardship in our whole region and also that it will create enthusiasm for students who might be interested in coming to study environmental issues at Mason.”
Originally published in the College of Science magazine Periodic Elements, Fall 2010.
Over the next three years or so, more than 30,000 Northern Virginia sixth-and seventh-grade students will pull on hip waders and sift through the muck along the banks of the Potomac River and nearby streams and ponds to discover what lives in and around the water. Guided by field interpreters — some volunteers, others who are College of Science environmental science interns or graduate students—the youngsters will check how much sediment is in the water, observe the kinds of animals that live in it, and monitor its pH, oxygen, and nitrate levels.
According to Dann Sklarew, associate director of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC) and an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, these students are receiving a “meaningful watershed educational experience” through PEREC’s collaboration with Prince William County and Fairfax County public schools and the Chesapeake Bay B-WET (Bay Watershed Education and Training) program—a partnership that fosters stewardship of the bay through experiential education for middle school students and their teachers.
The Chesapeake Bay B-WET program, now eight years old, is the original of six regional B-WET programs supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Program applicants are eligible to receive as much as $200,000 a year for up to three years to fund a single project.
With additional support from the Alice Ferguson Foundation, National Geographic, and regional parks and refuges, PEREC and its partners are currently delivering two B-WET projects: “Spatially Connecting Kids to the Bay,” a project for more than 13,000 Fairfax County seventh graders, and “From the Mountains to the Estuary, From the Schoolyards to the Bay,” a project for nearly 19,000 Prince William County sixth-grade students. Both programs are currently underway through 2013, and pilot programs that reach high school students also are in the planning stages.
Originally published in the College of Science magazine Periodic Elements, Fall 2010
For nearly thirty years, Chris Jones and his colleagues Donald Kelso and — more recently — Dann Sklarew have been observing and studying the health of the Potomac River. The research of these Department of Environmental Science and Policy faculty members, as well as their collective vision of an on-the-water, hands-on science facility, was a major impetus in the founding three years ago of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC).
PEREC inherited several projects from the group, including their long-term study and monitoring of the ecosystems in Gunston Cove, a bay of the tidal Potomac in southern Fairfax County. Their observations, says Jones, PEREC’s director, has revealed evidence that “the efforts of Fairfax County and other jurisdictions in the area have resulted in a partial restoration of Gunston Cove.” The improvement comes despite the dramatic residential and business development in the Northern Virginia region. In this way, “PEREC has made a significant contribution to the area’s biodiversity and to Chesapeake Bay restoration,” Jones says. “We are learning that management efforts, if bold enough, can mitigate the impact of increased human populations on our natural ecosystems.”
PEREC’s most pressing issues, according to both Jones and Sklarew, PEREC’s associate director, are continued improvement of water clarity, which allows light to reach underwater vegetation, and restoration of aquatic vegetation, which provides a habitat for fish and other animals to nest or hide. Another priority is educating K- 12 students and science teachers in the region about watershed stewardship through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration- supported Chesapeake Bay B-WET program.
PEREC’s endeavors with these students include “bringing technology into the classroom with live data,” says Cindy Smith, PEREC’s education director.
PEREC also provides a significant involvement for Mason’s environmental science students, and both undergraduate and graduate students work as field interpreters when the middle school students visit the outdoor labs. Smith points out that a number of retired Prince William County science teachers also work as field interpreters. “I love the people we work with,” she says. “It’s hard to have a bad day when you see how much fun they are having.”