Meraux Foundation’s 5th Annual Delta Institute Goes Global

Teachers see firsthand the need for “one-river thinking”

Not since 1973 had the Bonnet Carre Spillway remained open for as many days as it has in 2019. Eclipsing the old mark of 76 days this year, a visit to the huge flood diversion was one of the more powerful moments of this year’s Mississippi River Delta Institute.

K-12 teachers from the Delta region, the upper reaches of the river in Minnesota, and even a group of teachers from the Hawaiian island of Kauai, all participated in the three-day Institute, a professional development program presented by the Meraux Foundation in partnership with Hamline University’s School of Education and Center for Global Environmental Education.

“As we successfully completed our fifth annual Delta Institute, we’re positioning St. Bernard Parish as a leader in environmental education and innovation, not just locally, but for the entire course of the river and the world,” said Rita Gue, president of the Meraux Foundation. “We’ve long believed in ‘one-river thinking’ in that what happens upstream greatly affects us here in St. Bernard Parish. That’s why it’s so important that we had teachers from the headwaters of the river and even a group from Hawaii. It means the work being done here is being put to use globally.”  

Chris Haines, a Meraux Foundation board member said, “visiting the spillway while it was open was a highlight of this year’s institute, and it underscores how everything that happens upriver affects us here. Not just the floodwaters from upstream but also the runoff that finds its way here and into the Gulf. There’s no better evidence for this than the “Dead Zone.” 

The Dead Zone is the result of nutrient pollution, primarily from agricultural runoff, which stimulates massive algal growth that eventually decomposes and uses up the oxygen needed to support life in the Gulf.

This was but one of the many topics discussed at the Institute. The annual gathering uses rivers as a context to give teachers tools to help students meet education standards in science and language arts as well as in other curricular areas.

“In our fifth year, we’re making real connections with our teachers, curriculum, and collaboration to advance the Delta Institute agenda, said Blaise Pezold, the Meraux Foundation’s Coastal Program Manager. “We have teachers coming back for the second time to brush up on information they learned in years before because there is just so much to absorb.”

“We are leading the way in environmental education and bringing together multiple perspectives on how to teach and adapt lessons for our various cultures,” Pezold continued.

One of the diverse cultures participating this year was the group of teachers from Hawaii who speak an endangered language that the Center for Global Environmental Education is working to help them save. 

“We first met Blaise Pezold and the teachers from St. Bernard Parish in a trip we made last year to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, said Tia Koerte, the director of the Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha Public Charter School on the island of Kauai.

“We made an immediate connection with the Louisiana teachers and have kept in touch. It has been an incredibly rich learning experience being with experts in the field and cultivating resources and people to bounce ideas off of,” she continued.

Another feature of this year’s Institute was a free, fully-scripted curriculum for the short documentary, Station 15, which was recently released by Ripple Effect. The film centers on high school student Chastity Hunter, who investigates New Orleans water infrastructure in the wake of the floods of August 2017. The curriculum, developed for students in grades 8 through 12, is designed to introduce students to basic water literacy—the city’s water infrastructure and its historical context—so that they may begin to see their lives interwoven with the place they live.

Claire Anderson, the executive director of Ripple Effect, is an alum of the Delta Institute, and the Meraux Foundation sponsored Station 15.

Though the Minnesota and Hawaii groups have returned home, they’ve taken with them the ideas and perspectives about the river delta that foster stronger environmental understanding across the planet.

“The Meraux Foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life in St. Bernard Parish, and given the parish’s position at the delta of one of the largest river systems in the world, the Delta Institute is especially pertinent, not just here at home but now, around the globe,” said Bill Haines, a board member of the Meraux Foundation.