Watershed Rangers, the Coastal Watershed Council’s youth education program, offers a myriad of opportunities for local students. Through the program, youth get a chance to study native animals and plants, connect with classmates through hands on, nature-related games and projects, and participate in activities that support social and emotional wellness. Additionally, Watershed Rangers students engage with science curriculum aligned with state education standards, attend a field trip to explore the San Lorenzo River, and complete action projects to help support a healthy watershed!  

How can we help our children move forward with wonder and resilience while knowing that our warming world will likely impose tremendous difficulties in their future? 

With grade-specific themes focused on topics such as erosion, steelhead trout migration, stormwater runoff, and groundwater recharge, some might notice that climate change, critically important as it is, is not included as a Watershed Rangers topic. Indeed, however, the Coastal Watershed Council has climate change education embedded in its Watershed Rangers curricula.  

Science is not separate from human impacts so we must incorporate social and emotional learning. Climate psychology incorporates the best tools for building emotional resilience. 

Through professional development opportunities such as the 2022 Summer Institute for Climate Change Education (hosted by Climate Generation and NOAA) and dialogue with local community members and climate science professionals, it is clear that the Watershed Rangers program approaches climate change education with age-appropriate tactics. The Coastal Watershed Council avoids “doomism” and “eco-anxiety” by following the approaches below to ensure gradual awareness building around the complex topic. 

Ages 0-6: Students develop a love for the basics and beauty of nature- Different plants have different leaves. Soil and plants absorb water, but blacktop doesn’t. Students learn to care for the planet. “We turn off the water when we can because it’s the same water the plants and animals use.” At this age, students are too young to understand climate science and too emotionally sensitive for doom and gloom conversations. 

Ages 6-10: Students have the capacity to begin explaining the environmental phenomena they observe- Why do steelhead trout migrate? What causes erosion? This is a great age range to gently introduce challenges that nature faces, including possible solutions. “With more secure lids on trash cans, we could have fewer food wrappers going down the storm drain on campus.” Students discuss the power of personal action.  

Ages 11-14: Students are encouraged to share in an open discussion about climate science, including their thoughts and feelings about climate change. Students learn about the importance of having accurate resources and can begin to analyze data to add substance to the conversation. This age range is perfect for students to get involved in advocacy and use their voices to support the changes they wish to see.

The Coastal Watershed Council is committed to delivering accessible watershed science and climate change education to the youth of our community. Engaging over 1,000 students annually, the Watershed Rangers program uplifts and inspires students to explore, learn about, and protect whatever they find passion in. 

This work is made possible because of generous funding and support from Santa Cruz County CORE and the Monterey Peninsula Foundation. Thank you for your continued dedication to environmental education and strong, healthy communities. 

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