Thirty-three students from Rachel Lenix’s sixth-grade class at Downtown Elementary in Bakersfield, Calif., brought their water conservation practices and solutions to three schools and their school district board to take second place in the 2019 California Water Service H2O Challenge. They took home a $2,500 grant for their classroom, won a pizza party, and received a Cal Water prize pack for each student.
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.
Lenix’s students wanted to create a long-term, research-tested conservation solution for their community garden. They launched their project, “Rain, Rain, Fuel Our Plants,” by dividing into two research teams: rainwater collection and edible plants. Once they proved that tap, rain, and reclaimed water grew radishes with similar results, it was time to engineer a solution. They created buckets that could capture rainwater outside and in which students could discard their unused water in the classroom. This water was then recycled and used in their community garden. From there, the students introduced the program to clubs, classrooms, and principals at Downtown Elementary, William Penn School, and McKinley Elementary School, and to community members such as parents, and school board members.
From the start, the class wanted to ensure that their water conservation efforts were “…not a sixth-grade project but a school project,” said Lenix. The flexibility of the Cal Water H2O Challenge gave her students that opportunity. She said, “Students who participate in inquiry-based projects become stronger students…there is a level of excitement that cannot be obtained with other teaching methods.” It was that excitement that energized their peers, other schools, and community members to implement their water conservation solution.
“The dedication Ms. Lenix’s 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 their efforts in building a community-centered water conservation project. We know their passion will inspire increased community engagement in sustainable water management.”
According to Christiane Maertens, H2O Challenge Program Director, classrooms 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 and 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.