Is Your Creek Safe? Just Ask Your Local Macro-Invertebrates.
Kristen Thomas’ fourth- and fifth-grade class at Little Chico Creek Elementary School took home fifth-place in the 2019 Cal Water H2O Challenge today, after surveying the safety of their community’s water after the devastating Camp Fire last fall. The class will receive a $500 grant, and each student wins a Cal Water prize pack.
The Cal Water H2O Challenge is a collaboration between Cal Water and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) that asks students to solve a local or global water issue. The annual competition is open to fourth- through sixth-grade students and teachers in schools served by Cal Water.
Little Chico Creek, with its location in the backyards of students’ homes and near the local junior high, is a community resource. Students take monthly trips to visit the creek, which is why Thomas’ 27 students were concerned about its safety after the Camp Fire.
After seeking professional advice, Thomas’ students set out to test the water to see if it was impacting their health, nearby plants and animals, and macro-invertebrates. Test results showed that the water was safe; the Camp Fire had increased the charcoal in the water, but no amount of rain increased it to unsafe levels. From there, they shared their results with the school, with parents and guardians through a newsletter, and with thousands of people through an Action News Now television broadcast.
The 2019 Cal Water H2O Challenge gave students an outlet to affect their community and employ skills beyond research and evaluation, according to Thomas. The students divided into groups to address aspects of their project, which Thomas believes gave her an opportunity to lead “class lessons and discussions about what it means to be a leader and how to be inclusive and build consensus.” Thomas found it particularly rewarding when a girl took a “leadership role and capitalize[d] on her organizational and project management skills to help her team,” Thomas said. Her students recognized the integral position Little Chico Creek holds in their community and, through the Challenge, were able to “connect their study and exploration of several standards to a real-world problem.”
“The dedication Ms. Thomas’ class gave to this project is a reminder of the great potential of our future leaders,” said Ken Jenkins, Director of Drought Management and Conservation at Cal Water. “We are proud to recognize this inspiring classroom for the students’ efforts in turning one part of a devastating situation into an educational opportunity that engages their peers and community in sustainable water management.”
According to Christiane Maertens, NAAEE H2O Challenge Program Director, projects like this support NAAEE’s National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education goals. “This project shows how teachers and students can take real-world problems and create real-world solutions by understanding their community, their environment, and taking action,” said Maertens.
By integrating water-efficiency, educational programs, and school curriculum, NAAEE and Cal Water’s partnership positively impacts California’s environment. The partnership has brought STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Math) and NGSS (Next-Generation Science Standards) into the classroom to equip students with the skills they need to succeed.