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ECO: The Water Runs Through....

ECO, the Water Runs Through….                                   

Water plays a most important role in our daily lives in many ways.  For Marcus Whitman ECO students, water plays an especially important role in their daily learning since September 1997. Marcus Whitman Environmental Classroom Opportunity Program, commonly known as ECO, offers sixth-grade students a unique curriculum that emphasizes experiential learning as its lens and the environment as its focus.  ECO students represent a wide array of academic skills and socioeconomic backgrounds joined by a common interest, the natural environment.  This is the cohesive factor in the learning community’s culture of commitment through choice.

ECO is located at the Marcus Whitman Middle School in Rushville, New York. Students also use numerous other community locations throughout the local Finger Lakes region for field-based learning experiences.  Students study traditional academic core subjects and a wide umbrella curriculum called ECOstudies. Their study is infused with intertwined thematic overlays: Watershed, Field and Forest / Flora and Fauna, Business Enterprise, Environmental Issues, Outdoor Recreation, Service, and Community.

The fluid nature of water and its varied roles as creator, nurturer, cleanser, and carrier are demonstrated clearly in so many of ECO’s activities.  Students conduct water quality studies on a local waterway.  These studies include chemical tests, physical measurements of the streams, and macro invertebrate population sampling.  Students study the data which provides an opportunity to analyze and problem solve.  Streams and ponds are favorite sites to visit along the varied hikes students undertake.  Water’s inherent quality of providing respite and reflection offers students thoughtful entries in their field journals.  The Marcus Whitman Outdoor Classroom ponds, West River, Canadice Lake and the Erie Canal provide the opportunity to explore via canoes and kayaks, observing wildlife and learning more about the changing nature of our region due to various economic and environmental factors. Local gullies are explored while hiking to witness their beauty carved by rushing water.

The study of business enterprise has involves several water-based activities.  Maple sugaring and its evaporation process find students evaporating water to create the sweet delicacy.  Students study the evolution of sugaring technology and its historic quest to remove water from sap more quickly and efficiently.  Greenhouse plant propagation study shows the critical role water plays in plant care through the need for adequate watering of the young plants as seedlings and planting stock in ECO garden beds.

Community service also has a watery focus.  Students play an important role helping the NYSDEC and Trout Unlimited to stock fish in the Keuka Lake Outlet.  Students hand carry pails of fish from the hatchery truck to the stream.  Earlier ECO students planted several thousand willow plugs along the banks of Naples Creek as part of the NYSDEC’s aquatic restoration/habitat restoration project along the creek.  Canandaigua Lake’s Onanda Park has an interpretive kiosk designed and built by ECO students.  The kiosk provides valuable information regarding the watershed and how residents can contribute to its care.

Throughout these many experiences, students engage across the curriculum in thoughtful observational and reflective processes that build their academic and interpersonal skills.  Water’s critical role in their daily lives is something ECO students cannot ignore for it runs through all they do as they care for tomorrow’s environment by learning and serving in today’s!

For more information about the Marcus Whitman ECO Program or to make monetary contributions towards student learning opportunities, contact: Malcolm MacKenzie or Samantha Wolf at ECO, Marcus Whitman Central School, 4100 Baldwin Rd., Rushville, NY 14544; telephone 585-554-6442; or write  or .                                                                          

 May 2023