Crookston fourth-graders launch miniature canoes in Red Lake River as part of International Water Institute initiative.

    If someone somewhere at some point in the future finds a miniature wooden canoe in the Red Lake River or on its banks, or on some other waterway linked to the Red Lake River, if they see a unique number on the canoe and enter that number at the International Water Institute’s (IWI) website as part of its “River of Dreams” initiative, they just might read the canoe’s story, dream or poem, authored by a fourth-grader at Highland School in Crookston.

    Fourth-graders at Highland for weeks had been preparing for what transpired Thursday afternoon in Crookston’s Central Park. Teacher Jamie Kresl says IWI representatives in Fargo reached out to the school wondering if classrooms would like to participate in the River of Dreams program. Once the program got underway, fourth-graders read a book, “Paddle to the Sea,” and they also learned all about the Red River of the North, the Red River Basin, and how the Red Lake River fits into all of that.

    The IWI says its River of Dreams program is meant to explore the connectivity of the planet’s water supply and how watersheds function. Interactive classroom activities are tailored to the level of participants and include connections to reading, writing, social studies, science, math, and art. For the Highland fourth-graders, it meant learning about the Red River Basin and Red Lake Watershed, and how their geography fits into larger drainage areas.

    The pinnacle of the River of Dreams program involves the miniature canoes given to each student. They are instructed to imagine their journey in their canoe down their local river, in this case, the Red Lake River, all the way to the ocean. They describe that journey in the form of a story, poem, or dream. As part of that, the students designed and decorated their 14-inch wooden canoe in ways that express themselves, their local watershed, and regional culture.

    Thursday, the fourth-graders converged on Central Park, where they discussed what they’d learned as part of the River of Dreams program with IWI staff, and many of the kids detailed their canoe’s story, poem or dream. They then ventured to the fishing pier in the park and, two at a time, the fourth-graders launched their canoes into the river. Some kids gently placed theirs in the water, while others threw them as far as they could. The students also learned a lesson about the effect of the wind on the river currents, as the strong breeze out of the east proved to be formidable as the canoes tried to make their way down the channel.

    Each canoe has a unique number, a brief explanation of the River of Dreams program, and the IWI website for the initiative, The fourth graders can monitor the site to see if anyone has found their canoes and visited the site to report their find.

    “I think they learned a lot about our river, and they also had to get pretty creative while coming up with their canoes’ stories,” Kresl said. “I’m so happy (the International Water Institute) reached out to us. Some of the kids really got into it.”

    See a Facebook Live video at the Times' Facebook live showing some of the kids launching their canoes.