Imagine students from five Sierra Foothill counties teaming with experts in the field to learn about natural resources within their local watersheds: snowshoeing into Bear Valley to measure Sierra snowpack with PG&E personnel; surveying invasive weeds in lower elevations with the American River Conservancy; comparing water quality upstream and downstream from a Slab Creek reservoir alongside a SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) representative. The Bridging Schools and Communities watershed grant projects supported such experiences to make learning relevant – combining the new Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) curriculum units with meaningful field studies.
The “Bridge” Projects began as a collaboration between regional school districts, CREEC Region 3 coordinators, state and local water and resource agencies, and non-governmental organizations seeking to create learning opportunities for 5th- 12th grade students in the region. Grants offered by the California Department of Water Resources provided funding for teacher training, community meeting time, field trips, and field study equipment. The projects greatly benefitted from the timely release of draft and final versions of EEI curriculum units as classroom teachers were able to use the lessons to introduce concepts about California’s water resources and supply and management challenges related to population. Reading about the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and using the activities demonstrating stream sedimentation in The Dynamic Nature of Rivers, a 6th Grade module, students gained an appreciation for the scale and importance of the Delta. First-hand experiences in local watersheds connected back to the classroom curriculum, which further enhanced student learning as they began to understand how all Foothill river systems enter and influence the Delta. The 5th grade Earth’s Water module introduced students to the connection between the Delta and Southern California water needs and how supply issues influence people living here in northern California.
Bridging Schools and Communities demonstrated a few of the many possibilities for pairing EEI curriculum units used in the classroom with local resource providers and field activities to make the standards come alive and engage students in their local environment. The connections made during the project between resource managers, educators and students led to great understanding for all involved. The potential for this dynamic collaboration can be realized throughout the state as resource providers and educators become familiar with the new EEI curriculum as a valuable tool to engage students in their learning and their environment. The Region 3 CREEC Network will soon add a new page to the regional website, highlighting examples of educators linking EEI curriculum units and outdoor learning experiences, such as the “Bridge” projects.