By Anne Bremer
In my Climate Corps AmeriCorps fellowship with The Watershed Project, I have the opportunity to do what I am passionate about – connecting people with nature through education – every day. My previous positions managing community-wide sustainability initiatives gave me a lot of valuable experience with program management, and community outreach and education, but no formal training in environmental education. I joined the education team at The Watershed Project because I am interested in gaining in-depth, hands-on experience developing and delivering environmental education curriculum.
I was thrilled when, within the first weeks of my fellowship, I had the opportunity to jump right in and take the lead on writing a brand-new curriculum, with the support of the education team. The Watershed Project was interested in creating and piloting a new program called Explore Your Watershed, targeting 4th and 5th grade students, as a way to increase students’ time in nature by taking them on multiple field trips within one school year. Over the course of the program, students learn about the ecology of local creeks and the shoreline, and the importance of good water quality and diversity of species in both of those ecosystems.
With the help of the education team, I identified the core learning goals for the program, came up with activities to teach key concepts, researched connections with Next Generation Science Standards, outlined lesson plans, and created handouts and materials. In November, we piloted the first half of the program (one classroom lesson and one field trip) with two 5th-grade classes at Ohlone Elementary School. In the classroom, students learned where water is found on earth through a visual demonstration and played a game in which they used evidence to learn which plants and animals live in a local riparian (creek) ecosystem.
The students enjoyed the lesson, but the field trip to Wildcat Canyon Regional Park was the real highlight. Students eagerly identified plants and animals they had learned about in class, and kept science journals in which they made observations, drew pictures, and developed their sense of curiosity by asking and writing down lots of questions. At the creek, students observed the creek using sight, sound and smell, took water quality measurements, and searched for macroinvertebrates and water striders. They played a game to learn how supply and demand for resources makes populations naturally fluctuate over time and made a “resource web” to see how all the components of the creek ecosystem depend on one another. The kids were captivated by a pair of red-tailed hawks circling a stand of eucalyptus, a millipede crawling across the trail, and the many buckeyes and acorns scattered on the ground. I have never seen a group of 5th-graders so still or silent as when we stopped along our hike to watch a squirrel scamper up a live oak tree with an acorn in its mouth.
It was incredibly rewarding to see the students fall in love with the land I grew up exploring, and affirmed my decision to pursue a career in environmental education. By offering this fellowship, The Watershed Project has given me valuable experience and insight into what it takes to develop and deliver high-quality environmental education programs, and has also positively impacted the lives of thousands of kids in our community. I’m proud to say that I’m now part of making that impact.
In the spring, the 5th-graders from Ohlone Elementary will finish up the Explore Your Watershed program with another classroom lesson in which they learn about shoreline ecosystems and compare them to riparian ecosystems, followed by a field trip to Point Pinole. They are excited to have more time exploring the outdoors, and I am exciting to inspire a life-long love of nature in those students and many others.