By Jeff Embleton
The morning sun reflects off the calm tidal waters of the Bay outside Redwood City and a boat engine kicks to life. It is a peaceful moment in the morning, and then dozens of voices can be heard approaching the dock. It is the boisterous and excited sound of youth from The Green Academy.
This is the second year of The Watershed Project’s Green Academy, and today the youth are on a field trip to Redwood City to take a boat ride aboard the Robert G. Brownlee. Marine camp coordinator Hayley Huffman describes the field trip as one that provides hands-on experience with the local ecosystem. The students will spend the day on the water collecting data about fish, performing benthic sampling (which entails taking samples from the mud or seafloor), plankton sampling, and hydrology tests to collect data to measure the pH level and turbidity of the water.
In essence, The Green Academy is a giant outdoor science classroom where the textbook is the Bay, and the students teach and learn from one another, and receive thoughtful guidance from knowledgeable leaders and site coordinators.
The Green Academy works in collaboration with the Contra Costa Workforce Development Board, and other allies, to identify young adults from the Richmond area who could use the chance to earn money while lending a hand to improve the community. The Academy is an opportunity for these youth to gain hands-on work experience in restoration and conservation work to prepare them for the competitive green jobs sector.
The Watershed Project’s Education Coordinator Andy LaBar describes the four-week session as, “an opportunity to learn about jobs in the burgeoning green economy.”
These youth have completed numerous jobs over the course of the summer, including: working in nurseries to help transplant seedlings, building and maintaining vegetable beds, restoring creeks and riparian areas, and learning to identify the species around them. LaBar points out that the skill of identification is invaluable. As students begin to recognize and give names to flora and fauna in their natural environment, they begin to recognize the need to care for environmental resources.
The urban youth who participate in the Green Academy acknowledge that it provides new and interesting opportunities; but add that it doesn’t make them any less grossed out by bugs and insects.
When asked how they would be spending their summer breaks if they weren’t with the Green Academy, one youth responded, “Not doing anything productive.”
These youth are starting to understand how to make a positive and productive impact, even if it seems like a small job. One Green Academy members commented, “If it screws up the creeks, it’ll screw up the agriculture, and it’ll screw up the whole ecosystem.”
The youth tighten their life jackets, grab the tools and gear they’ll need for the day, and climb aboard the Robert G. Brownlee. As the boat slides away from the dock, the morning again grows quiet, but the noisy students are once again out getting their hands dirty and making a difference.