As a small non-profit with a big vision and ambitious goals, we are always looking for ways to maximize our effectiveness. One method is through partnerships, another through our long-standing “Train the Trainer” model. Our upcoming Watershed Teaching Tools in San Francisco (or WTT for short) does both. By partnering with several other organizations, we can leverage the resources of all, and for each teacher we train we can reach anywhere between 30-400 students per year.
The WTT workshop teaches educators fun, hands-on science based activities for their students that explore human impacts on our watersheds. We offer solutions as well as illuminate problems. We discuss the sources of urban pollution and the effects of impervious surfaces, how to reduce them, and treatment of urban runoff through bio-filtration. Water supply and conservation are linked to low-water landscaping and rain water harvesting.
The Watershed Project has been teaching teachers about watersheds, creeks, and gardens since its inception, but over the past several years it has become increasingly difficult to attract classroom teachers to workshops, and harder for them to implement environmental education lessons in the classroom.
Here is where two of our partners are key — Education Outside and Community Grows both provide outdoor education in school gardens in San Francisco. Education Outside trains young leaders to work in San Francisco schools, where they conduct garden based lessons all year with multiple classes in all grade levels. Each one of their 40 corps members reaches hundreds of students. Community Grows builds and helps maintain gardens in schools and community centers. Educators and recruits from both organizations will attend our WTT workshop, to expand their training with additional curriculum and “tools of the trade” drawn upon the expertise developed within The Watershed Project.
One consequence of working with this targeted audience of outdoor educators is that we can delve deeper into our subject, and provide them the knowledge and tools to design and build their own rain water systems. Our next partner is invaluable for this part of the program — Tap The Sky has installed over a dozen rain water catchment systems, rain gardens, and swales in San Francisco school yards. Tap The Sky designs, obtains permits, and constructs these projects. They have a partially complete project to collect rainwater off a chicken coop and greenhouse at our workshop site that we will tap into, and thereby give our workshop participants hands-on building experience. Additionally, Tap The Sky can provide support and maintenance for any school that installs a project.
The multiple pieces and partners in this workshop wouldn’t come together without the support of our funder, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SF PUC). The PUC also provides grants to help school install rain water systems. We also depend on the gracious cooperation of the SF School District, in allowing us to use school facilities to hold the workshop.
We believe that education becomes meaningful when linked to action, but we recognize that building and maintaining rain water harvesting systems, rain gardens, and even vegetable gardens are beyond the capacity of most classroom teachers. Yet gardens and outdoor environments can offer ideal opportunities for student education encompassing topics from nutrition and good citizenship to engineering. Partner organizations can provide the needed support for robust school garden programs, and also serve as community examples of how to build sustainability into urban environments.
We often hear from teachers who say, “I took your teacher training workshop many years ago, and still use the lessons you provided.” Few things are more rewarding, than to know that we made an impact.