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Trading Classrooms for Canoes to Study Water Conservation

About 30,000 students have participated in SWEEP since it began 30 years ago. (Chesapeake Bay Foundation)
About 30,000 students have participated in SWEEP since it began 30 years ago. (Chesapeake Bay Foundation)
March 11, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Students soon will be exploring local waterways by canoe as they learn how streams work and the importance of clean water. April 1 marks the beginning of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 30th annual Susquehanna Watershed Environmental Education Program, or SWEEP.

According to Kassie Fenn, the foundation's student leadership and education coordinator, about 1,000 sixth- to eighth-grade students from eight counties participate each year, learning the characteristics of streams and adjoining land and conducting hands-on experiments.

"When students develop a connection to their local waterway," she said, "they're able to become more invested in how to take care of those waterways."

SWEEP has both spring and fall sessions. Teachers can sign students up for the program on the Foundation's website,

Fenn said the foundation has a variety of educational programs, including the Student Action and Restoration Program, which partners with land conservancies, and a Mentors in Agricultural Conservation Program that pairs students with restoration specialists.

"They learn from professionals in the conservation field and install riparian buffers, which help absorb excess nutrients and runoff before it hits our waterways," she said.

Fenn said students were instrumental in winning state protection for the hellbender, a salamander that's vulnerable to pollution, making it a critical indicator of good water quality in Pennsylvania streams.

"They were able to really do the research and put the time and effort in to advocate," she said, "and the result was the bill being passed -- and now we have a state amphibian."

She said the educational programs help motivate students' decision-making as they develop into citizens and future leaders.

More information is online at

Disclosure: Chesapeake Bay Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Rural/Farming, Sustainable Agriculture, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA