2015 H2O Challenge – The Winner’s Reward

Fifth-grade students and their teachers at Shasta Elementary School in Chico, Calif., were named the grand prize winners of the inaugural Cal Water H2O Challenge. The students, with guidance from their teachers, developed a rain collection system to water a garden of native, drought-tolerant plants they created; the garden will be cared for by the school’s future students.

Developed in collaboration with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), the Cal Water H2O Challenge was open to students and teachers in grades 4-6 in schools served by Cal Water statewide. For their efforts in creating a project that heightens awareness of environmental principles, especially in the area of water conservation, the Shasta Elementary class taught by teachers Kelli Voss and Sarah Greenberg will receive an all-expense paid trip to the NatureBridge environmental science education program at the Channel Islands National Park, popularly known as the “Galapagos Islands of North America.”

“We are thrilled by what the students and teachers at Shasta Elementary achieved,” said Martin A. Kropelnicki, Cal Water President and CEO. “This class demonstrated, especially in a time when we are facing an unprecedented water crisis, how working together and striving to be innovative can lead to practical solutions that help save water throughout California and in other states.”

For their winning project titled, “Room 17’s H2O Challenge: Rain Collection and Native Garden,” Voss says the students immediately took the science and language arts lessons about the water cycle and the California drought to heart. They brainstormed ideas to utilize an unused garden plot on school property and water the plants in a way that would have a lasting impact on the school’s efforts to conserve water.

“The students truly made this project their own creation, all the way from brainstorming to implementing the project,” Voss explains. “Our class took a field trip to a local nursery, which taught the students a lot about gardening and native plants. We also sought the expert advice of a longtime local rancher about building our rain collection system. It was so great for the students to hear from local professionals directly affected by the drought.”

In addition to creating brochures to spread conservation awareness both at Shasta Elementary and neighboring schools in and around Chico, the students also worked in teams that networked with each other, effectively paralleling the real-life experiences of coordinating environmental conservation efforts. The student teams included financiers, execution specialists, designers, engineers, and researchers. Calling it “one of the biggest successes of the project,” Voss says the students demonstrated professionalism throughout the project. “Engineers and financiers worked back and forth to prepare a supply list,” she explains. “When they had questions about an item or how to build something, they turned to our research team, which was prompt and efficient in finding and relaying the information other teams needed.”

The results of the Cal Water H2O Challenge reflect the goals of the NAAEE’s ongoing National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education, according to Christiane Maertens, NAAEE’s deputy director. “Working for a sustainable future means focusing our educational efforts on our youngest students,” Maertens says. “The Cal Water challenge demonstrates the tremendous value of experiential, interdisciplinary education, which helps learners of all ages develop the problem solving and decision-making skills they’ll need to help their communities protect the environment and include everybody in their efforts.”

Maertens adds the partnership between NAAEE and Cal Water has generated many mutual benefits, especially in expanding water conservation efforts throughout the state and building educational programs into the school curriculum. “The students’ garden will live on beyond their class, and their rain collection system, coupled with their water conservation brochure and outreach efforts, will help spread awareness to future classes and other schools,” she says.