By Audrey Matusich
This school year marks the second year of our Youth Watershed Stewards program, a collaboration among SFUSD schools, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), Lotus Water, and The Watershed Project (TWP). The goal of this collaboration has been to fix and maintain preexisting rain cisterns at San Francisco elementary schools, allowing schools to use the cisterns not only to provide water to their schoolyard gardens, but also as a teaching tool for students to learn the importance of water conservation and benefits of green infrastructure. The photo below shows an example of repairs that were needed at Miraloma Elementary School. With the leadership and help of Kat Sawyer, TWP’s Greening Urban Watersheds Program Manager, and high school students from John O’Connell High School’s Building and Construction Trades Pathway program, the rain cisterns were up and running just in time for our most recent atmospheric river.
One part of the Youth Watershed Stewards Program is for teachers and students to participate in a TWP-developed curriculum centered around each school’s cistern. This educational program allows students to learn about the water cycle, how water flows and travels through San Francisco’s different watersheds and through San Francisco’s combined stormwater and sewer system, and the multi-benefits of rain catchments systems. Upon completing the Tap the Sky curriculum, many students expressed through a feedback survey that one of their favorite parts was the “Rain Catchment Design Challenge”, an activity where students got to build rain catchment systems on a miniature house model. The goal of the activity is to see which design captures the most “rainwater”, thus accruing the least amount of urban “rainwater runoff”.
The Youth Watershed Program also includes an Action Project day, where students participate in an outdoor activity using their newly repaired cistern. Once again, this year the Action Project proved to be a highlight for students, teachers, and TWP staff alike. Attending Miraloma’s Action Project, I witnessed students sharing their knowledge about the school’s cistern and excitement over planting a completely edible garden on their campus. One of the most rewarding aspects of this Action Project was the involvement of the high schoolers from John O’Connell. This unique experience helps build relationships between schools and provides leadership opportunities for the high schoolers. The elementary students were thrilled to ask questions and follow the lead of their high school “buddies.” Following the example of the high schoolers, the elementary students eagerly got their hands dirty by digging holes, adding compost, and planting a variety of native plants. The photo below encapsulates kids’ excitement prepping the soil for their plants.
The Youth Watershed Stewards program provides students with an appreciation for the water around them, instilling in them a determination to conserve water in many ways, but especially through the implementation of cisterns and other types of green infrastructure that help slow down and filter rainwater before it goes down the drain. I was impressed by the knowledge that students had retained during this program and their eagerness to share during the action project. They excitedly discussed where San Francisco’s drinking water comes from and how rainwater travels and is cleaned in their city. Moreover, students gained an understanding of how their school plays a role in water conservation through the use of its cistern and importance of a working cistern and its positive impact on their schoolyard.