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AEP Access to Environmental Education Endowment Fund | Coming Full Circle

Sometimes an elementary school interest can become a career. When Jason Reynolds was in 5th grade, he attended a stream sampling educational program in Columbiana County. He was immediately interested in the critters that reside in Appalachian Ohio’s waterways – and the extent to which conservation was critical to maintaining a healthy environment.IMG_0636

“It’s something I really enjoyed doing. People don’t really take into consideration what’s at the bottom of streams – how important the bottom of that food chain is for everything else. And how big of an effect development, runoff, and pollutants can actually have on a watershed or a stream.”

Now in his twenties, Reynolds has turned that childhood fascination into a career, and he works as a Wildlife and Forestry Specialist at the Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District (CSWCD) in Salem, OH. A significant component of his job these days involves community engagement and educational programming. Given his previous experience in elementary school, it is no surprise that he particularly enjoys working with students and young people.

“I get to return the favor, if you will. Go back into the community and educate the public, students, and younger kids about why it’s important to protect the watersheds and streams.”

IMG_0645One way Reynolds returns the favor is through a watershed conservation initiative administered by the CSWCD. The program was recently awarded a $1,450 grant by the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio (FAO) through its AEP Access to Environmental Education Fund. FAO’s award enabled the CSWCD to purchase new equipment to support the program, which allowed the program to reach more K-12 students.

Reynolds serves as an instructor and leads the program’s In-Stream Presentations, during which students wade into the streams to collect and analyze samples – precisely the activity that so peaked his interest in 5th grade. In 2016, over 700 Columbiana County students participated in the In-Stream Presentations, and Reynolds is seeing results.

“Our programs are working. It gets the students thinking… we need to protect the watersheds and streams, and what would happen if we lost them? They start to get it.”

Reynolds is convinced that exposing the next generation of Appalachian Ohioans to the importance of watershed conservation and responsible environmental stewardship will yield positive results for the future – and possibly even shape a student’s future career.