By Andy LaBar
When The Watershed Project introduced the Riparian Lab after-school creek ecology program in 2008, it was an attempt at something new and different. The Riparian Lab pilot program has grown like a weed over the past year, expanding from one site to four, all in different watersheds.
The program started at Booker T. Anderson recreation center, located along Baxter Creek in Richmond. Staff alternated between conducting lessons in the classroom and outside at the creek. In anticipation of the drop-in nature of an after-school program, the lab blended hard science like water quality testing and erosion experiments with fun, environmentally-themed games like “Predator Prey” and a tag game focusing on Bioaccumulation.
We started the growth by working along Wildcat Creek as it runs through Davis Park in San Pablo. Last year, that program shifted to be a part of the official after school program at nearby Dover Elementary. Twenty students attended the eight-week session, which culminates in a creek clean up. The Wildcat Creek Riparian Lab is continuing this spring, charged with a new group of 20 students and city plans to continue beautifying the creek with the help of proposition 84 funding.
In partnership with Lincoln Elementary and OASES, the Riparian Lab also expanded into Oakland. We focus our outdoor piece on Lake Merritt and the channel that leads past Laney College into the San Francisco Bay. By developing curriculum that the OASES staff can help lead, the students participating in this program will receive up to 32 creek lessons, rather than the 8-10 of most other programs. Additionally, students are documenting and reflecting on their experience with the lake by taking photos and writing haikus.
A fourth watershed was added to the program this past fall when we partnered with SPAWNERS and the El Sobrante Boys & Girls Club, located on Appian Creek. This program allows students to drop-in so as not to discourage irregular after-school program attendees to join in the fun. The program also encourages older students to take a leadership role in many activities.
What started out as an untested pilot has blossomed into a successful, exciting and evolving program. At each site, one of the students’ primary goals is to leave their creek in better shape than when they started, allowing students in each subsequent group to continue the improvements. From one watershed to four and with passionate students in tow, the Riparian Lab is extending The Watershed Project’s mission.