High school students explore the value of the Mississippi River

Have you ever turned on the tap to fill a glass of water and considered where the water comes from? Or poured it down the drain and wondered where it goes?

These were the essential questions driving River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippi River. This year-long, art-led environmental education project was conducted by high school students and staff from River’s Edge Academy, a St. Paul charter school focusing on experiential and expeditionary learning. Their experience is documented in the exhibit, We Watch the Stream: Impressions from River Journey, on display at Stormwater Park and Learning Center this spring.

Beginning in the fall of 2014, the students, led by educator and artist Jonee Kulman Brigham, began their quest to trace the flow into and out of the school’s kitchen sink to discover the variety of ways that they, their school and the Mississippi River are interconnected. Looking through the lenses of economy, ecology and community, they traveled the river from the upstream points where St. Paul’s water is sourced and treated, through their sink at school and then to the downstream locations where wastewater is treated and released.

Jonee Kulman Brigham
Jonee Kulman Brigham

After the initial time in the field, students worked with teachers to process and reflect on their experiences back at school. They analyzed data to make predictions about how a growing human population might impact our water resources. They considered how runoff from urban and agricultural areas affects water quality, and what this means for ecosystems in and around the river. They also looked at the river as a whole and examined what was happening as the water moved downstream toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Interviews with a variety of community members as well as historical research gave them different perspectives on the value of the river and how it has affected settlement and development over time. Students documented their fieldwork and ongoing river studies into online GIS (geographic information system) story maps to share their learning with the public. These are available online and in an interactive kiosk at the exhibit.

In order to expand the audience for the students’ explorations, Brigham documented River Journey using photographs, maps, reflective writing and objects from the project. A collection of these pieces have been assembled into an engaging and informative exhibit that reflects the deep learning that occurred through this year-long project. It examines and celebrates our connections with the Mississippi River and emphasizes its value on many levels.

River Journey was funded through a fellowship from Institute on the Environment and with the support of community collaborators listed at the project website.

We Watch the Stream is available for viewing at the MWMO now through the end of June. A public reception will be held Friday, May 12, 2017, from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., with a presentation and water activity at 5 p.m.

Event Info


Students interacting with a storymap.
Students from River’s Edge Academy interact with a storymap on a touch-screen monitor at the MWMO Stormwater Park and Learning Center.
Students gathered around a touch-screen display.
Artist Jonee Kulman Brigham (right) looks on as students use a storymap.
A student observing an exhibit piece.
River’s Edge Academy students helped create the materials that would become the We Watch the Stream exhibit.
Students listening to Jonee Kulman Brigham.
Brigham walks students through the exhibit pieces.
We Watch the Stream exhibit piece.
An interactive piece of the exhibit.
Ladling water into a jug.
Visitors are asked to put water in the jug and then sign their name in the guest book.

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