One way to keep a stream healthy is to gather a multitude of individuals from varied backgrounds and cultures to work together to maintain its quality.
Of roughly 2,541 students enrolled in Clarksville High School last year, more than 650 spoke a language other than English as their first language. Many are members of families who traveled from Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries.
Others came from Latin America for Clarksville’s combination of affordable housing and plentiful jobs in industrial agriculture.
“Clarksville is a town of about 9,000 people. At our high school, about 40% of our students speak a language other than English,” said Libby Sanderson, agriculture teacher at the high school. She also serves as the adviser for the local Future Farmers of America and Arkansas Stream Teams chapters.
“We had 26 countries and 12 languages represented last year at our school,” Sanderson said.
She makes it a point to learn to greet each student in their native language.
“When they see me trying, then they try harder and we really learn that we’re not all that different,” she said.
One of her students last year came to Sanderson excited that his father also had a background in plants and agriculture.
“It turns out, his father used to be a plant inspector back in Asia before they had to move because of war in their home country,” Sanderson said. “And I’ve heard from a few of my students that the landscape of Ouachita Mountains and Arkansas River Valley remind them a lot of home. Many people in Thailand hunt for subsistence, so they enjoy hunting here. They just have to learn the rules we go by.”
Sanderson said she also has formed a bond with many of her Latin American students. An avid turkey hunter, she has made friends with some students who are from Sonora, Mexico, where many U.S. hunters travel to hunt the Gould’s subspecies of wild turkey.
Enrolling the Future Farmers of America class into the Stream Team program was a natural fit for many of the students whose interests were so heavily focused on the outdoors and agriculture.
Matthew Irvin, Stream Team coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in Russellville, said the chapter itself is an excellent example of how diversity enriches an environment.
“It’s amazing to see how many different cultures and backgrounds have come together in this group, all surrounding nature and agriculture,” Irvin said. “Just like we strive to see diversity in the species along the waterways where we work, this group is all the better for the many different cultures represented in it.”
For their Stream Team project, the students adopted Spadra Creek in Johnson County. Spadra Creek starts in the Ozark National Forest near Ozone and drains into the Arkansas River at Lake Dardanelle.
In addition to being a fantastic fishing area, it is an excellent stream to learn about biodiversity and what water quality indicators fisheries managers look for when assessing the health of an aquatic system, Sanderson said.
The students’ section of Spadra Creek continues to rate an “excellent” score for aquatic habitat value, she noted.