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NMSU Extension agents host RiverXchange field day at Alcalde agricultural science center

ALCALDE, N.M. - It's one thing to have classroom lectures about the different aspects of a river, its watershed and ecosystem, and how water impacts a society, but it comes alive when students have hands-on activities on a field trip to river and farm environments.

Pojoaque fifth-grade students, participating in the RiverXchange program, watch dyed water filtering through sand during a demonstration on how soil filters surface water on its way to becoming ground water. NMSU Extension agents hosted a field day of water-related activities at NMSU's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

Early in May, New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service partnered with RiverXchange to host Pojoaque Intermediate School fifth-grade students on a field trip to the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde.

The field trip served as a culminating experience for the 150 students who participated in RiverXchange, a year-long project in which they learned about many aspects of watershed and water resources issues.

NMSU's Small Farm Task Force, comprised of Extension agents from the northern counties, coordinated the event.

"The task force members have wanted to have an agriculture-related activity for youth," said Steve Lucero, Sandoval County Extension 4-H and agriculture agent. "Partnering with RiverXchange was a perfect opportunity."

Lucero has been a classroom guest speaker for RiverXchange's Rio Rancho classes, as well as a presenter for area children's water festivals.

"When we expanded the program to Santa Fe County, we were looking for a place to take the kids on a field trip that connected them to an important watershed feature," said Amy White, RiverXchange project manager. "Steve came up with this idea. We knew the Alcalde science center was a cool place and it turned out to be a wonderful place to host the outing."

The task force partnered with the Alcalde agricultural science center staff to organize six learning stations at the farm and funded the educational material with Rio Grande Basin Initiative grant money.

The students learned answers to such questions as: How much water is used in a sprinkler system versus a drip irrigation system? Which type of soil is best at filtering water? What is the water quality in the Rio Grande? What is the pH of soil, and how does it affect our world? How does an irrigation diversion system work and how does it get the water to the fields?

"We wanted to enhance what they had been learning during the year through the RiverXchange program," said Christina Turner, Santa Fe County Extension 4-H agent. "We wanted to take those ideas and emphasize them here in a practical, hands-on environment."

Students changed various irrigation nozzles on irrigation pipe to see how much water was emitted. They mixed baking soda and vinegar with soil to see how soil pH is determined. They watched sand filter purple-colored water and learned that the blue dye attaches to the sand particles, leaving red in the water. They saw that the concentration of particles in water affects the amount of air in it and its quality. They toured the experimental farm and the Rio Grande bosque to see how water is diverted from the river and delivered to the fields.

"This partnership with the Extension service was a match made in heaven," said Bonnie Schmader, RiverXchange field trip coordinator. "The Extension and 4-H agents know how to engage the kids in activities. It was wonderful watching the students at each of the six learning stations."

In addition to coordinating the field trip to Alcalde, Extension agents from Bernalillo, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties have also made hands-on presentations in all 45 New Mexico RiverXchange classes.

RiverXchange is an innovative project developed in New Mexico that educates fifth-grade students on water resources issues and links them with other fifth-grade students from around the world through private, interactive class Wiki social networks.

Instead of confining water to a single study unit or a one-day water festival event, classroom teachers explore major water resource topics over many months as part of the normal curriculum. Various water and environmental agencies provide technical assistance, such as classroom guest speakers and field trip docents.

The program is free of charge to the schools. A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation grant obtained by the County of Santa Fe provided the program in 10 classes in the county. RiverXchange is coordinated by Experiential EE, LLC in partnership with the New Mexico Water Conservation Alliance and other funders. For more information about RiverXchange, visit www.riverxchange.com.