Not all chemistry is learned in a lab. Sometimes answers are found by wading into a creek.
That is one of the lessons Montgomery County hopes to impart on local high school students by transforming a portion of Rock Creek Park and its surroundings into a hands-on chemistry classroom this school year.
The program, announced Thursday, will reach 1,500 students over the next three years, according to the county.
Starting this fall, students at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring will become “citizen scientists,” monitoring water quality in the Rock Creek watershed — an area that spans 60 square miles of the county. Students will collect and analyze water samples from the park and their local community.
“Instead of teaching about the watershed within the classroom with pen and paper, students can actually go outside right in their schoolyard and study creeks and streams firsthand,” said Diane Lill, director of education at the Audubon Naturalist Society, based in Chevy Chase, which will help facilitate the program.
Bethesda-based Veverka Family Foundation is giving $1 million to the National Park Foundation to fund various science education programs. The new one in Rock Creek Park will receive $100,000 of that funding.
Under the training of chemistry teachers, local environmental experts and park rangers, Montgomery students will create a database of water-quality measurements. Students will then analyze their findings to identify areas in need of attention. The absence of certain organisms, for example, could indicate pollution, Lill said.
Montgomery officials say they will expand the three-week program to Northwood and Albert Einstein high schools in 2018-2019 and to Wheaton and Montgomery Blair high schools the following year. Their goal is to eventually integrate the curriculum into chemistry classrooms countywide.
The program comes as the county is developing lessons based on state science…