Shari Tolan, a science teacher at Cherokee High School, and Donna Frye, a special education teacher at Knox Elementary School, were selected to participate in the 2010 Rivers to Reefs Educators' Workshop.
The workshop is a free six-day journey filled with outdoor field experiences focused on the water quality of the Altamaha River watershed from its headwaters in Atlanta to the Georgia coast.
Two workshop sessions took place this summer, with 16 teachers from across the state participating in each one.
Activities included water quality monitoring at field sites statewide, a canoeing trip to the convergence of the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers, a boat ride through the Altamaha River delta to explore the watershed that directly influences the Gray's Reef, a trawling trip through a marsh and an excursion on Sapelo Island to explore its marshes, ecology and culture.
The program is led by the Georgia Aquarium and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Gray Reef's National Marine Sanctuary. It's funded with a grant from the University of Georgia Teacher Quality Higher Education Program.
Kim Morris-Zarneke, manager of educational programs at the Georgia Aquarium, said teachers fill out an application and submit a letter of recommendation from their principals to be considered.
Each applicant is reviewed by a panel of judges, who don't see the name or school of the applicant.
Along with informing teachers about the watershed and how water quality varies across the state, Ms. Morris-Zarneke said the program also gives teachers "confidence in teaching about water in general."
"It's a very unique experience we offer," she said.
Both Mrs. Tolan, 46, of Sixes, and Mrs. Frye, 51, of the Clayton community, said they were surprised and excited about being chosen for the July workshop.
"I felt very honored to have been chosen," Mrs. Frye added.
The teachers compared water quality from various streams. Mrs. Tolan said she was surprised by how acidic the water was near the Macon area and how basic it was in the ocean.
Mrs. Frye said the experience taught her more about Georgia history and opened her eyes to what impacts water quality across the state.
She has been at Knox Elementary in Canton for three years. Before that, she taught at Hasty Elementary for three years and at the old Tippens Elementary for six years. She also taught in the Hart County School District for four years.
She earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood education from Emmanuel College and her master's degree from Piedmont College. She obtained a special education certificate from the University of Georgia.
Mrs. Frye and her husband, Ron, have two adult children and one granddaughter.
Mrs. Tolan this year entered her seventh year of teaching at Cherokee High. She earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Kennesaw State University and another bachelor's degree in biology education from the same institution.
She and her husband, Shawn, have two adult children.
Both teachers said they now feel more comfortable teaching students about water quality. Mrs. Frye said, as a result of the workshop, she "couldn't stop talking" about water and how it varied across the state.
"After the experience, it changed the way I look at things," she said. "There are so many aspects to water quality."
For Mrs. Tolan, the experience gave her more knowledge to help students understand water. She said she will redesign her lesson plans so students can have more hands-on experiences, noting the Etowah River behind the school gives them a golden opportunity.
"I've realized I should step it up with the kids and make it more fun and exciting," she said.