"Ok get your helpers to open your reagent..."
About 30 fifth-graders bundled in sweatshirts and gloves are huddled around Naturalist Teri MacArthur as she demonstrates a water quality testing experiment.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight...whoa! Gee whiz! What happened? It turned black. Actually it turned blue."
The kids are spending the morning studying Spring Creek on the Montgomery County Preserve. They're here through the No Child Left Inside program, run byÎ¾Legacy Land Trust. Executive Director Jennifer Lorenz says Legacy Land Trust has preserved more than 8,000 acres of green space in this region. And someone needs to be around in the future to conserve those wilderness areas. That's one of the reasons they're reaching out to middle schoolers.
"We want to raise the next generation of conservationists. If they don't get outside, like you and I may have when we were kids, then they can't have any affinity — they can't say that they enjoy nature if they're never in it. So our goal is to get them out into the wilderness areas that we protect and hopefully later, when they're adults, they'll want to help us permanently protect them."
Of course the program is more than just a self-serving interest. Research indicates when kids apply classroom learning in the field, their grades are better.
"This helps science scores. All across the country many, many scientists have studied kids out in the wilderness and those who are able to get out and do real-world applications of things like water quality testing from streams, their science scores are higher. So that's a great immediate output of this."
But eleven-year-old Monica Day isn't really thinking about test scores.
"We've been studying how pollution affects waters and how just the tiniest bit of something can change the pH level in water. Whenever we first got the water it looked a little disgusting, actually. And then we added some colored water or something to it and then we tested it to see what the color was and the color had a rating, like 7.0. And I think it tested the acid in the water from acidic to basic to neutral."
Day is from the Honor Roll School, a private school in SugarLand. But for urban students in inner city schools it can be difficult to get here. So Legacy Land Trust pays to bus middle schoolers out to these locations so any kid can learn to take care of and love the wilderness.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
This story first aired on February 3, 2009.