James Pinsky: Need hope? Look no further than a child

James Pinsky

One of the beauties of being a child is thinking tomorrow will always be there.

After spending two days with some of Frederick County’s finest middle schoolers, I think they could be right.

Markley Walsh, the 4H youth development agent with the Frederick County office of Virginia Cooperative Extension, knows this and did something about it. Walsh and her peppy Virginia Cooperative Extension team invited the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District along with eight other fellow conservation-minded partners like the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Department of Forestry to teach conservation awareness to students at Frederick County and Robert E. Aylor middle schools.

“I wanted to get the children outside doing hands-on learning about conservation,” she said, adding that she hoped students might find some inspiration for future jobs, careers or mentors in the conservation field as well.

Fellow conservation specialist Alison Sloop and I did just that. Our station focused on teaching children about our fresh water supply. We talked about how much water we have, who and what needs it, and what we can do to protect, conserve and reuse it. We did this through a hands-on demonstration using a big bowl of water, some sponges and four smaller bowls that represented people, animals, agriculture and towns.

We time-traveled to the 1700s, best described to middle schoolers as life before the internet, and showed the children how little water we used back then and how, as our population grew, we used more and more water. Soon, they saw the big bowl was dry. Here is the really cool part: the students, to their credit, knew whatever water we used we had to get back one way or another. They knew we couldn’t waste our water; we couldn’t spill it, dirty it or otherwise squander it. They knew water became runoff and was non-point source pollution. Yes, they knew what point source pollution was. No, I mean they already knew. You can, and should, thank your local science teachers, like Frederick County Middle School’s own Krista Williams for that folks. All the while, Alison and I simply smiled at the quality of environmental education our middle school students are getting.

On that note, I’d like to send a special thank you to the staff of the Frederick County office of Virginia Cooperative Extension for allowing Alison and myself to honor and privilege to not just help teach and inspire our children, but to be inspired ourselves by the bright future we have because of our youth.

Anyway, I’m sure Walsh’s primary goal during these two days of conservation awareness was for professionals like Alison and me to not only know more about the world around them, but to inspire the children to care more about our natural resources. I am confident we did. But, I have a confession – I think the students inspired me a little more.

You see, while I spend the majority of my time in my job reminding people about the need for conservation, I don’t get to meet a lot of natural resource cheerleaders in my line of work. Being a high-energy kind of guy, my need to refuel my hope batteries comes early and often. Sure, deer, crows and even the forest’s stand-up comedians, gray squirrels, give me the occasional high-five hoof or beak nod of approval when we cross paths, but there’s nothing more inspiring to those of us who are fighting for a better future than knowing the future itself is already in good hands, no matter how small those hands might be.

Like I said earlier, one of the beauties of being a child is the innocence in thinking the tomorrows will always come. As adults, if we can continue to teach our children about conservation, and maybe channel a little bit of our inner child’s sense of hope, then maybe, just maybe the tomorrows always will.

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.