By Ken Schwab
Recently I traveled to San Francisco to join educators, professionals, and community members at a workshop presented by The Watershed Project whose focus was using award-winning teaching tools to bring awareness of healthy watersheds to our youth. Since I am new to the project, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
We met on the 5th of November at the Alice Fong Yu Elementary School in San Francisco. I was pleasantly greeted by The Watershed Project’s Public Programs Manager Martha Berthelsen, Education Coordinator Katy Brogan, and AmeriCorps Intern Diana Dunn. After chatting with these workshop leaders, I drifted over to a row of tables with displays, maps, field guides, a course reader, and many other watershed-related materials. “How cool is this?” I thought. The collection captured an array of topics that included local plant and vegetation, animal and marine life, how urban development and culture are shaping the planet, and opportunities to become involved in restoration.
As I was mingling before the workshop, the depth and breadth of teaching experience and expertise among fellow workshop participants struck me. I could tell that I was going to walk away from this workshop a better educator.
The core objective of the workshop was to take participants on a journey from mountaintop to upland habitats, creek ecology, marshes and marine debris. The first activity we learned was “Watershed in Your Hand”– a clever approach for kids to get a sense of how the dynamics of climate interact with watersheds. The class started by crumpling a piece of paper into a ball. As we carefully unraveled the ball, the terrain of our paper watersheds emerged. We marked the soil on the mountaintops, water in creeks, and urban development using colored markers. Then came the rain. In place of Mother Nature, we used squirt bottles and dowsed our watersheds with water. As the water flowed from the crumpled peaks to valleys of the paper, the colors blended together, demonstrating the interconnectedness of our waterways, homes, and environment.
The tour of the garden was remarkable. The school’s garden coordinator spoke of how students were eager to become involved even during recess. She also pointed out a shiny new rainwater harvesting system installed by The Watershed Project. Taking a moment, I began to appreciate the possibilities of watershed awareness projects in dense urban areas.
When it came time for lunch, we were surprised and thrilled to be provided with a delicious, home-cooked meal that was prepared and delivered by Executive Director Linda Hunter.
One section of the afternoon session exposed us to the Living Shoreline Initiative headed by Christopher Lim of The Watershed Project. He discussed the initial steps being taken to restore the native oyster population in the San Francisco Bay. I was amazed at the efforts currently underway to restore underwater ecosystems. He also emphasized the educational offerings, including free field trips for high school students!
At the end of the day, I walked away with an experience that was educational, entertaining, inspiring. I can’t wait to continue to get my hands wet in the world of environmental education.