On a brisk October day, a 7th grader runs along the banks of Silver Bow Creek, grinning ear to ear and shouting “Ms. Foley, Ms. Foley, I found a stonefly!” Kathy Foley smiles back and encourages the student to keep looking.
Ms. Foley, a teacher at East Middle School in Butte, has seen countless students have this reaction. As one of the first teachers to partner with CFWEP more than 17 years ago, she has brought thousands of students to field trips at Silver Bow Creek, witnessing the ecosystem transform before their eyes. She says the place-based element of CFWEP connects deeply with her students: “It’s in their backyard, and Silver Bow Creek runs right through Butte. When you say, ‘this is what starts the Clark Fork,’ they get more interested in it.”
From her first experiences with the program, Ms. Foley was hooked. “Within a year, I absolutely loved the program, and I started teaching at a lot,” she says. She introduces macroinvertebrates early in the year with photos of stoneflies, caddisflies, and more that hang on her wall. Her students do labs on water quality measurements like pH and dissolved oxygen before CFWEP staff members arrive at her classroom.
This fall was Ms. Foley’s last time bringing her students on a CFWEP field trip. At the end of the year, she will retire after teaching at East Middle School for 30 years. Despite her long partnership with CFWEP, she is still eagerly learning more. “Every year when they come in, they say something that I hadn’t heard before,” Ms. Foley says.
Ms. Foley has seen many of her students go on to pursue careers in science. She says some of the students she is most proud of are those that have gone on to do science within our watershed. Students like Chris Doyle, who spent years working for CFWEP, and Kerrie Berger, who is a Fish Culture Specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. “You’re hoping it wasn’t just because of you, but the curriculum you taught touched him enough to want to say. ‘You know, I’d like to go into this. I think this is worthwhile, and I understand what this all means,’” says Ms. Foley.
At her last field trip, Ms. Foley watches as students sample for macroinvertebrates, test water quality, and assess the riparian habitat. Students are eager to tell her when they’ve collected interesting or unusual data, like unexpected metals concentrations. She encourages them to take multiple readings and grab a sample of water to bring back to the classroom for further testing.
As for the macroinvertebrates, she has a special trick for getting the students excited. After witnessing the macroinvertebrate community transform throughout the restoration of Silver Bow Creek, Ms. Foley knows how special it is to have stoneflies, a highly sensitive species, back in the water. “I’m really thrilled that when they find a stonefly they come running, because I tell them I’ll buy them a pop if they find stoneflies.” she says. And it works. Throughout the morning excited shouts of “I found a stonefly” can be heard from students who will become stewards of the water the stoneflies call home.