Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Cultural and Human Geography

Committee Director

Tim Anderson

Committee Member

Michael Allen

Committee Member

Jared Benton


This project focuses on mentoring children to help reduce marine debris in their local river by implementing one of ten lessons from an inquiry-based Riverology curriculum to empower youth voice, increase geo-literacy, and spatial thinking. Eighteen participants aged seven and eight, piloted Riverology Lesson 2: What Do I Know or Imagine about the Elizabeth River? that includes six steps: inquire, visualize, draw, share, act, and reflect. The children were asked to make drawings before and after viewing an Elizabeth River Story Map presentation (Dunbar, 2021a). The drawings were then compared to see if the participants included marine debris, stewardship solutions, and a mental map of the river with branches. This study addresses four questions 1.) Why should we teach youth about rivers? 2.) How can creating art and stories serve as a communication tool for students to share their ideas? 3.) How can visualization activities be utilized to connect youth to their local rivers? 4.) What barriers do students face on their journey to act and participate in the public sphere? Scholars, such as Jürgen Habermas (1974), Sibel Ozsoy and Berat Ahi (2014), Tom Cockburn (2019), Lynda Barry (2019), and Millie Kerr (2016) have advocated for a citizen democracy fueled by youth participation in the arts. Some of these efforts have been applied to environmental conservation, but no such inquiry-based effort has been undertaken to address the stewardship of the Elizabeth River in Virginia. The scale of the marine debris issue sometimes creates the impression that local actions are futile, but research shows people using their own expertise and knowledge as stewards is a driver for change (N. Bennett, et al., 2017). To foster river stewards these young participants completed Riverology Lesson 2 and although none of their pre- drawings included marine debris or stewardship actions, 83% of the post- drawings did. In addition, only 11% drew a mental map of the river in their pre- drawings, but 44% did after viewing maps and images. An unexpected finding showed none of the drawings included people and this may relate to youth empowerment issues, the inquiry question wording, or COVID-19 isolation.


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