Interview by TaeHo Lee, Rutgers Raritan Scholar
LRWP Board Member Missy Holzer teaches environmental science courses in Chatham High School. During my senior year of high school, I took her AP Environmental Science class. Years later, we serendipitously ran into each other at a workshop hosted by the LRWP. The reunion of this generous teacher and her former student led to this interview at the Cook Student Center with the sunset of March soaking the floor in amber.
TaeHo Lee: Where are you from in the watershed, and how do you engage with and explore the watershed? What is your favorite thing to do in the watershed?
Missy Holzer: I grew up in Somerset New Jersey near the Raritan River. The Raritan River was my river. One of the things that I remember distinctly about the river from my childhood is that it used to flood quite a bit. We had many storms come through such as the remnants of hurricanes that flooded the little downtown of Bound Brook. And I just lived a couple miles away. So the big routine was that, after the flood, we would walk down to Bound Brook to see what the damage was all about. We looked at the waterline underneath the underpass of the Queen’s Bridge which spans the Raritan to connect Bound Brook and South Bound Brook. We could not always access the underpass because the water was so high, so we would go over the train tracks. As a young child I really didn’t understand flooding; I really didn’t understand the power of the river and all that it had to offer, and all the damage it could do. So for me it was just a marvel and one of those things that was just part of my life.
T: Do you still live in Somerset?
M: Yes, I live in a different part of Somerset. I have been back there for twenty years already. And I’m still in the Lower Raritan Watershed, in Franklin Township. Franklin Township is pretty big, and a part of it is a part of the Stony Brook Millstone watershed. Another small part of it is a part of the Lower Raritan Watershed.
T: Watching the impacts of floods was a favorite activity?
M: It was one of my biggest memories of the River. We used to bicycle along the river. But that memory of the frequent flooding was one of those things that was so big.
T: Did you ever do stream or river cleanups?
M: Cleanups? Back then? No! We never did cleanups! I grew up in an era when cleanups didn’t exist. I participate in cleanups now that I’m back in the community. The early 1970’s was around the time when the whole environmental movement was just getting started. So, no, clean-ups just weren’t a thing yet, although proper disposal of trash was a thing and littering was not!
M: Coming a long way!
M: For the good.
T: As an environmental educator, how do you want your students to engage in and with watersheds?
M: They do engage in watersheds quite a bit in two different fashions. My AP environmental science students and I explore Great Swamp Watershed in Morris County with the assistance of the Great Swamp Watershed Association. For their final course project, we visit three streams that enter the Great Swamp wetlands, and one where it drains out. The purpose of doing this is that as the water is going in, it’s picking up everything that’s running off the properties. So we have all those impervious surfaces that are contributing to the non-point source pollution going into the Great Swamp. The power of a swamp, a marsh, of wetlands and all these places is that they are great filters. You would expect the water going in would have one water chemistry and the water coming out to be another. You would expect the water going in to be pretty nasty whereas the water coming out to be a lot cleaner, if the wetlands are allowed to do what they are supposed to do. Students gathered the data that showed the swamp does purify water.
T: How did your students react to this project?
A: They loved being outside! They loved collecting the data. The whole point of the project was Watershed-friendly living. The students were tasked with coming up with ways that the community can protect their watershed. There are so many different aspects and ways that can do that, like making recommendations for taking care of your lawn, making recommendations for taking care of dog waste, etc. So with all those different types of recommendations they developed, the students did a presentation for community members.
T: That’s brilliant! What, in your view, are the primary issues that need to be addressed in the watershed?
M: For the Lower Raritan there are two things. One is the amount of impervious surfaces, and understanding how that is related to the water quality. This issue is directly related to population and land use within the confines of the Lower Raritan Watershed. The other thing is engagement. People should have relationships with the Raritan River. People might cross it on a daily basis, but only look down once in a while. But if more people understand that it’s their river then they would take a little bit more ownership of it; they would understand it as a community resource that we all should take care of. So I think if there’s a way that we can promote social aspects of the river, that would be a great way to ensure better water quality in the future.
T: I agree with you. I also think that people need to understand the concept of a watershed, because during outreach tabling for the LRWP, many people do not even know what a watershed is.
M: I hundred percent agree with you. Even starting with that little nugget — having a model of what a watershed is and showing them where their house is relative to the river, anything that’s on their driveway. All the things that are allowed to be put on the ground is going to change the chemistry of our watershed.
T: What is your vision for the LRWP?
M: My vision for the LRWP is to include as many people as possible as resources to further the betterment of the river and its watershed.
T: You are an environmental science teacher at Chatham High School. What is your role there? Can you provide insights into how we can best interact and communicate with young adults to address the needs of the LRW?
M: I teach environmental science in high school and other courses as well. When there’s a group of students who are interested in an environmental club then I serve as their advisor. The way to best communicate and interact with young adults is to get them involved, to get them outside. We hide our face too much with technology, and we don’t experience what it is like to be outside away from technology. If we can get as many students as possible outside to do water testing, or go for a hike and nature walk within the watershed with someone who is knowledgeable to point out few things, and have students actually explore and ask questions and have those questions answered, and also point out things that are challenges, I guarantee you that students will develop passion and want to address and fix those challenges!
T: What is your environmental teaching philosophy? In other words, when do you think that students learn best?
M: That would be engaging them with real problems to solve. Students also learn best when they are involved in the process of learning. For instance, getting them involved in collecting data on their own – whether it’s looking at home energy audit so that they can look at their own energy usage. So connecting it back to their lives is I think going to allow the students digest the information a lot better than just learning from a textbook.