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Meanderings and the Illinois Rivers Project
Meanderings is the annual compilation of the student and teacher work done in conjunction with the Illinois River Project (IRP) and the culmination of Robert Williams' vision of the project as an interdisciplinary effort combining scientific literacy, writing, literature, and art. Dr. Williams helmed the program from its beginning with 8 teachers and 24 schools in 1990. The IRP grew over its 15-year run to include 180 schools from Cairo, Illinois to Little Falls, Minnesota.
In the initial grant Williams outlined a series of activities focused on water testing and river conservation equally supported by social studies, writing, and history. The work of the students and teachers expanded to include examinations of fish kills, fertilizer use, replacing damaged flood warning signs, and environmental activism.
SIUE recognized Dr. Williams' 30-year career in education with a Great Teacher award in 1997 and the status of Professor Emeritus. He retired from SIUE and continued his work at the University of Texas. In 2003, the Nature Conservancy awarded Williams the Illinois River Valley Conservancy Award. Dr. Bob currently resides very happily on the banks of the Guadalupe River.
Each volume of Meanderings is separated into chapters. These chapters detail the science experiments, provide personal essays from the students, and include poetry, art, songs, and fiction.
The opening chapter, Rip Rap, provides the hypothesis, modeling, and data for the conservation experiments. This data was shared statewide among students, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The data also served as the basis for many student presentations across the state.
The chapter titled Islands is a forum for the students' recollections of IRP activities. The voices in this section range from the joy of simple discovery,
On a leaf you may see a small red bubble, well that's an insect's home and it's called a gall! (Jessica Wierdak, Meanderings 2003. Rivers of the United States, page 15)
When we presented, we met a teacher from Siberia that spoke very little English, but knew her Russian. (Joanna Puchalski, Meanderings 1999. Rivers of the United States, page 67)
To more nuanced examples of nature writing,
When oak leaves grow to the size of a mouse's ear, ticks and insects come out of their winter hideaways. The American basswood, or little leaf linden, has good, soft wood favored by woodcarvers. The chanticleer pear tree sports delicate white blossoms in the early spring, which were already gone on this trip. (Kate Newhart, Meanderings 2003. Rivers of the United States, page 35)
The chapters focused on creative writing and poetry present a wide array of styles and approaches for appreciating the environment. In the 2005 Meanderings students researched and imagined life on the Illinois rivers in the 1800s. In later volumes the writing expanded to include proposals submitted to the Governor of Illinois and sample press releases promoting environmental education events. Williams noted in the preface to the 2003 issue,
These are the artifacts of the thinking of young people for over a decade as they visited and studied the rivers and streams of their local communities. And in these writings one will find the dreams of these same youngsters as they cast hopes for the futures of these same waters.
Rivers Music Project
In 1991-1992 high school students participated in the Rivers Music Project, an initiative of the Illinois Rivers Project. Sheet music titles that related to rivers were identified, located and photocopied. The gathered music became known as the Rivers Project Music Collection, which is maintained at Lovejoy Library at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Some of these titles can be found in other digital sheet music collections, such as available in the Sheet Music Consortium. The 1992 issues of Meanderings contain a bibliography of identified river sheet music titles at the end. Some of the titles were not donated at the conclusion of the project. Other additional titles were donated subsequently by Dr. Williams. For original student music compositions, see the 1991 Central Edition (p. 200-202) and the 1991 Midwestern Edition (p. 163-166) of Meanderings.
The Robert Williams' Meanderings Project showcases all 31 issues of Meanderings. Many of these are preserved in the Louisa H. Bowen University Archives & Special Collections, Lovejoy Library, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the Illinois State Library and the libraries at the University of Missouri St. Louis and Northeastern Illinois University in this digitization project. This digital collection was created by Library & Information Services in 2015. The home page text was written by Matthew Paris ("Meanderings and the Illinois Rivers Project) and Therese Zoski Dickman ("Rivers Music Project").
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