Article by Hayley Usedom, Education Coordinator, Marine Science Institute
What is a watershed? In September 2014, when local students were asked that question, Marine Science Institute (MSI) educators received answers ranging from “I don’t know” to “a shed full of water.” Given the proximity of our communities to major bodies of water, it is important for Bay Area students to have a thorough understanding of watershed systems. Thanks to a Bay Watershed Education and Training grant awarded to MSI by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, all of the sixth graders at Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City are participating in a yearlong in-depth watershed program, Student Stewards of Redwood Creek Watershed (SSRCW). Using an EnviroScape watershed model, students have learned what a watershed actually is, explored the flow of water through a watershed, and discovered what happens to point source and nonpoint source pollution in a watershed.
Perhaps you still find yourself wondering, “Well, what is a watershed?” In short, a watershed is an area of land in which water drains or “sheds” into tributaries and larger bodies of water. However, the students in SSRCW are not learning about watersheds in general terms. By virtue of living in Redwood City, they happen to live in the Redwood Creek watershed, which is the focus of their curriculum. Redwood Creek begins in the Woodside Glen neighborhood just south of Highway 280 below the terminus of Farm Hill Boulevard. It then passes through the Menlo Country Club. Around Broadway Street, Arroyo Ojo De Agua, a primary tributary, meets Redwood Creek underground. Arroyo Ojo de Agua flows through Stulsaft Park, home to endangered rountain thistle. Near Alameda del Las Pulgas, Arroyo Ojo de Agua runs through a concrete channel to El Camino Real, where it is briefly exposed to open air before it enters underground culverts in downtown Redwood City. The creek flows under Highway 101 and becomes a tidal channel. Sloughs, mudflats, and marshes are all located in this area. Water from the Redwood Creek watershed spills out into the San Francisco Bay Estuary–also the endpoint for water from approximately 40% of California’s watersheds.
As part of the grant, Kennedy Middle School students have adventured to different parts of their watershed to get up close and personal with the ecosystems. For many students, canoeing has been a favorite activity. Most students had not been on the water before, and had a fun (and sometimes frustrating) time learning how to paddle. Working as a team, they were able to venture out into the slough and get a closer look at marshes. Students took hydrology data. They learned to use equipment that tests pH, turbidity, temperature, phosphate, dissolved oxygen, density and salinity, and to understand the results in the context of a healthy bay. They also visited Stulsaft Park in fall, winter, and spring to check the health of the tributary that is just down the street from their school.
Students are not just learning about watersheds, but also about how they can be stewards of their community. A great way to be a steward of your community is to share knowledge. Kennedy students are picking up trash from Stulsaft Park and sending the data to San Mateo County Environmental Health Services. They are also learning from high school students in Redwood City. The Redwood Environmental Academy and Leadership (REAL) program matches high school students with middle school students, and focusing on teaching academic and leadership skills through hands-on service projects related to the environment. The high school students mentor the sixth graders during some of the field trips and help them build watershed models. Not only are these high school students sharing through mentorship but they also educated teachers in February at the Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County’s 39th annual STEM Conference. REAL students taught a hands-on activity that demonstrated how to build, structure, and implement a watershed model in the classroom. SSRCW and REAL programs have provided opportunities for students to become teachers and for teachers to learn from their students.
To see these watershed adventure activities online, visit MSI’s YouTube page.
Thanks to the contributors that made these programs possible. To learn more please visit our webpage at www.sfbaymsi.org or contact the Advancement Director at 650-364-2760 X14 or by email email@example.com
This article was featured in our BayLines Summer Edition 2015.
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