Faculty Blog – Oct 2017

 In General News, Press Releases, Vanguard Blog

The October Faculty Blog

Why Field Trips? 

Michaela McCown

B.S. and M.S. Texas A&M University

Biology and Environmental Science

Vanguard College Preparatory School

Let’s be honest; the main reason why students take environmental science is for the field trips. Even though field trips take up part of their lunchtime, students consistently say that the field trips are their favorite part of the class. The question that remains is – why do we go on so many trips and why are these experiences such a valuable supplement to the classroom learning environment?

Oftentimes when students finish their schooling, they have a lot of book knowledge, but lack real-life experiences and applications to accompany that knowledge. Over time, facts and tidbits learned tend to fade, but impressions from experiences tend to last much longer. One of our main goals in environmental science is to help students understand what impact we as humans have on the environment and what actions we can take to be better, more sustainable stewards of Earth’s resources. Waco and the surrounding area offers many unique opportunities to witness different environmental issues firsthand and explore what actions local entities are taking to solve these various concerns. Our field trips combine the knowledge that students learn in class with real-world, relevant examples in our local community, creating impressions that will last a lifetime and guide sustainable decision making.

Our first field trip this year was just down the hill at Koehne park to test water quality for Texas Stream Team. Environmental science students will continue to have opportunities to collect water quality data for Texas Stream Team on a monthly basis. This experience helps students understand various water quality parameters that are important for human health and aquatic life. In addition, the data collected during the monthly sampling is submitted to Texas Stream Team and utilized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to monitor water quality around the state.

Students working to test a water sample from Lake Waco for Texas Stream Team.


Our second field trip of the year took students to Cobbs Citizen Recycling Facility, a recycling location managed by the City of Waco. At Cobbs, Waco citizens are able to drop off recycling and other non-disposable waste, including bulky waste, latex paint, tires, antifreeze, motor and cooking oil, and refrigerators (some items do require a minimal disposal fee). At Cobbs, students learned why the city emphasizes and encourages recycling: it conserves natural resources, provides local jobs, and preserves landfill space to expand the longevity of controversial landfills.

This month, we explored stormwater sampling sites around the city with the expert knowledge of one of the City of Waco’s Environmental Regulation Analysts, Ashley Nystrom. Stormwater is surface runoff, particularly evident in rain events, that travels over impervious surfaces into ditches and storm drains that later drain into local rivers and lakes. Surface contaminants, including motor oils, erosion from construction sites, excess fertilizer, and pesticides will accumulate in surface runoff and eventually travel to our surface water bodies. These contaminants affect water quality for public water supply and aquatic organisms. By regulating stormwater in Waco, the city helps to protect water quality in the lake and rivers for local citizens and aquatic life.

Mrs. Ashley Nystrom with the City of Waco shows students a stormwater sampling station, an essential part of the City of Waco’s required stormwater monitoring program.

At Waco Creek, students observed the effects of stormwater and what a typical stormwater conveyance looks like.


Later this month we will get the opportunity to visit the new Urban REAP (Renewable Energy and Agriculture Project) which was opened this semester by Mission Waco to promote quality of life and environmental stewardship.  When the temperature has cooled down a bit, we will travel to Cameron Park to examine the effect invasive species (particularly plants) have had on natural ecosystems.

Next semester, environmental science students will hopefully get the opportunity to visit Waco’s two water treatment plants: the DAF (Dissolved Air Flotation Water Treatment Plant) and Mt. Carmel. The DAF is a unique facility that is one of the first plants of its type in the United States. Rather than allowing sediments to settle on the bottom of clarification basins, the DAF uses air bubbles to float sediment to the top of the basins. Students will continue following the path of water through Waco and will then venture to WMARSS, the local wastewater treatment plant, to learn how our wastewater is treated and where it goes after we use it. We will also get the opportunity to visit the local landfill to discuss solid waste disposal in Waco and the controversy surrounding the new landfill. 

In addition to all the field trips students go on as a part of environmental science, we also invite a number of guest speakers who are experts in their field to talk to our students. Michael Serbanic, a local Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden, visited in September to discuss environmental and wildlife regulations in Texas. We also plan to have professionals from the City of Waco, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service come to show and tell our students what their role is in relation to environmental science.

Mr. Michael Serbanic, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden, speaks to students about environmental & wildlife law. 


Fifteen or twenty years down the road, when my students are well into their careers, I do not expect them to remember everything they learned in the classroom. What I hope they do remember, as future decision-makers and professionals in our society, is sitting down by the lake to test water quality, getting to talk to a game warden, or going to visit the landfill. I hope these experiences make a lasting impression and help them make well-informed environmental decisions for the rest of their lives. My goal with this class and these experiences is to teach our future about the impact we have on the environment and show them how to be responsible stewards of the resources we have been given, no matter their career or path they take in life.

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