Red Oak Rain Garden
The Red Oak Rain Garden on the University of Illinois Urbana campus soaks up rainwater, enhances the campus aesthetic, and provides an educational experience for everyone who visits. Extension Photo.

NAPERVILLE, Ill. – This fall, youth can use critical thinking skills to solve a real-world agriculture and environmental challenge through the Water Connects Us All 4-H Ag Innovators Experience program. University of Illinois Extension is offering the youth education program in select Illinois counties.

The challenge includes activities that use every-day items to demonstrate how rain gardens, bioswales, saturated buffers, and bioreactors protect watersheds and wetlands to improve water quality in our communities.

“Models of these engineered conservation practices help youth in both rural and urban settings learn how they work,” says Donna Nuger, 4-H youth development educator serving DuPage, Kane, and Kendall counties. “Our 4-H team can help educators, groups, or families learn how to do these activities and understand how natural ecosystems provide services and affect water quality.”

Earlier this year, Illinois 4-H Teen Teachers and Science Ambassadors were trained on this national program in order to teach it in their own community.

“In light of current circumstances, these teens adapted and developed a video series to allow teachers, parents, and youth to access the challenge online,” Nuger says. “The videos explore the water, nitrogen, and carbon cycles, as well as wetlands, watersheds, ecosystems, and the four demonstrations of engineering practices.”

Additionally, 4-H staff are available to lead lessons via web conferencing tools using activity kits. Water Connects Us All aligns with Next Generation Science Standards and is easy to modify for various grade levels, Nuger says.

For five years, 4-H Teen Science Ambassador Krish Nangia of Naperville has enjoyed sharing lessons with youth, and says he found a special connection to the 2020 topic.

“Many of us take water, a precious resource, for granted,” Nangia says. “I want everyone to understand how water contamination is a big problem in today’s society and understand this problem cannot be solved without working together as a team.”

The environmental connection also was important to fellow 4-H member Sofie Heidrich of Oswego.

“I believe the youth we teach and reach with these materials have the ability to become mentors themselves and share their knowledge with their families and communities,” she says. “Who knows? They may even come up with other solutions or ways to protect natural resources and the whole planet itself.”

Learn more about this educational opportunity and how to participate this fall at go.illinois.edu/4HAIEWaterConnectsUsAll. The 4-H Ag Innovators Experience program is sponsored by National 4-H Council and Bayer and challenges youth to apply STEM skills to real-world issues, encouraging interest in agriculture innovation.

Check your local Extension office to see if the full program is available in your area, Nuger says.

SOURCE: Donna Nuger, 4-H Youth Development Educator, University of Illinois Extension
WRITER: Rosie Ralston, Marketing Communication, University of Illinois Extension

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