Group uses mascot, workbook to teach students about river

By Katie Demeria

WOODSTOCK — A central stoneroller fish from the Shenandoah River is helping local middle school students learn about their river.

Stanley is the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River’s mascot. The environmental organization has spent the past two years developing a workbook starring Stanley for local middle school students. They introduced the workbook Monday at Peter Muhlenburg Middle School’s River Day.

Leslie Mitchell of Friends of the North Fork said the group was able to create the educational tool due to a grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment.

“It brings the watershed to them in a fun way,” Mitchell said.

The Friends of the North Fork worked with teachers from Peter Muhlenburg Middle School so that the book aligns with the Standards of Learning.

“Teachers can use it to prepare for the SOLs and to teach their students about their river,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to get to the kids early and often so they know about water issues.”

Students attending Monday’s River Day were able to learn about how their river interacts with others throughout the state. Mitchell was there, explaining the workbook to them, while illustrator Tom Chipley spoke to them about the artistic side of the book.

Jamie Nichols, seventh grade teacher at Peter Muhlenburg, said those students unable to attend River Day were working out of the workbook in the classroom instead.

Next year, Nichols said, it will be fully integrated into the curriculum.

“We have kids who fish a lot and already know the river, and then we have kids who almost never go outside,” Nichols said. “So [the workbook] will be useful for those on both ends of the spectrum.”

Stanley the Stoneroller was chosen as the environmental group’s mascot because the stoneroller fish is native to the river. A Friends of the North Fork member created a Stanley costume as well.

“We say that it’s Stanley standing up for his environment,” Mitchell said.

The workbook encourages students to give back to their environment, helping them to recognize how their own river can impact ecosystems further away.

It explains where the Shenandoah River goes and what other watersheds it interacts with in Virginia. It also touches on other subjects like the identification of macroinvertebrates, what makes rivers healthy, and how Stanley’s human “friends” protect the river.

It attempts to bring many of the lessons students might learn on River Day back into the classroom.

Officials from Trout Unlimited and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries were at this year’s River Day, teaching the students about the river and what lives there.

Natalie Rhodes, a seventh grade science teacher, was able to attend the River Day when she was a student at Peter Muhlenburg Middle School.

“The kids love it,” she said. “It gives them the opportunity to learn about the river itself. Some have never fished from it or gotten close to one at all. And it’s the end of the year, so it’s important to get them outside now.”

To learn more about the workbook or to download a digital version, go to www.fnfsr.org.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com