From left, Donna Morgan and Korri Ellis examine macro invertebrates at Dukes Creek (Photo courtesy of Kim Morris-Zarneke, Georgia Aquarium).
From left, Donna Morgan and Korri Ellis examine macro invertebrates at Dukes Creek (Photo courtesy of Kim Morris-Zarneke, Georgia Aquarium).

By Clare S. Richie

Teaching each generation about environmental science is critical. “Once we understand more about the world around us and our impact on it, we can learn how to be better stewards,” explained Korri Ellis, Grady High School AP Environmental Science and Oceanography teacher. At GHS for more than a decade, Ellis has connected students in land-locked Atlanta to streams, rivers, and oceans. In fact, she is the only teacher in Atlanta Public Schools to teach Oceanography with support from the Georgia Aquarium.

Each summer, Ellis seeks an environmental science continuing education opportunity to enhance her knowledge and rekindle her passion. “A teacher who is still excited about learning will bring that enthusiasm to her students,” she shared.

Last July, Ellis participated in Creeks to Coast, a weeklong teacher workshop that explored the Chattahoochee River system from its headwaters near Brasstown Bald, Georgia to the gulf at Apalachicola Bay, Florida. The workshop led by Georgia Aquarium and funded by the Georgia Aquarium, Georgia Pacific and Georgia Power provided teachers with field experiences, information and best practices to bring back to their classrooms. Invertebrate sampling, hydroelectric plant tours, fish hatchery and water treatment facility visits, ranger led hikes, daily group discussions and ecosystem exploration were packed into six days.

Ellis’ blog ( details her experiences and reflections. Paraphrased excerpts:

Day 1: We headed down the mountain to Dukes Creek. The tables were turned, as teachers became the students, learning Georgia Adopt-A-Stream macro invertebrate monitoring protocols. It was the type of class teachers would like to have every day out there in the stream.

Day 6: Where the River empties into the sea. The mixing of the salt and fresh waters in this [Apalachicola] bay creates optimal conditions for oysters to grow, making this the epicenter of the southeastern (at-risk) oyster industry.

Now winter in Atlanta, Ellis recalls the places she couldn’t have visited on her own. “I walked in a granite tunnel below Buford Dam on Lake Lanier, where I could feel the walls vibrating as thousands of tons of water flowed overhead. I literally felt the power of water.” Through her blog and trip notebook she documented many uses of this powerful yet fragile river system as well as the policies for conservation and protection.

Fulfilling her commitment to Creeks to Coast, Ellis will create a lesson plan to share with educators across Georgia. Her lesson plan will focus on water conservation by individuals, cities, and business – using her own pictures, context, and learning from that July week. Beyond that lesson, she refers to her trip notebook throughout the school year. Hopefully, there will be more continuing education opportunities to share with her students next year and beyond.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.