Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The start of this school year is different than any other. As teachers, parents and families navigate crisis after crisis in our community, CWC is working collaboratively to ensure that thousands of K-8th grade students in our community are able to continue to feel supported, remain engaged and learn about our changing environment. CWC is preparing meaningful distance learning activities that engage students in exploration and investigation of local environmental issues affecting the health of the San Lorenzo River.

During the spring 2020 semester, CWC collaborated with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and fellow environmental education providers to first bring distance learning activities to local youth. Twenty-one teachers used CWC’s materials in their classrooms this spring and hundreds of youth participated in hands-on, science-based environmental education. One teacher at Bonny Doon Elementary School shared, “Thanks so much for producing these high caliber distance (or not) watershed resources created in our home watershed. Bonny Doon School is plugging away at the lessons each week! What a curricular gift!”

Building off of successes and lessons learned from the end of the 2020 academic year, Coastal Watershed Council educators spent the summer working collaboratively with partners, researching best practices and adapting curriculum to best engage students in distance learning. While the curriculum reaches students wherever they are, there is still a strong emphasis on encouraging students and their families to safely engage with nature around them. CWC’s distance learning lesson units will engage students in investigating a grade-appropriate environmental issue, engaging in hands-on activities (at home or in their neighborhood) to explore and learn about the topic, analyze and synthesize what they have learned and then apply all the knowledge and skills they have learned to take on an action project to support a healthy San Lorenzo River and a healthy community. These activities are an adaptation of the lessons CWC conducted in classrooms and on field trips at schools around Santa Cruz County. While distance learning differs from CWC’s regularly-scheduled field trips, one teacher at Vine Hill Elementary shared, “I had several students say ‘This is fun!’ in regards to the virtual field trip to San Lorenzo River. They also loved seeing [CWC Environmental Educator] Sam in the video. I think it made up for not being able to go on the field trip.”

The distance learning lesson units will be shared with teachers using interactive Google Docs which allows students to receive step by step instructions and self-pace themselves through the hands-on activities, readings, writing and art opportunities. As in years past, these lessons support students with state standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards.

CWC is also supporting the priorities of state and local educators who are prioritizing social and emotional learning as a critical part of a student’s learning this year. To support students in being mindful, managing stress or anxiety, and being in the moment, all of CWC staff members contributed to the San Lorenzo River Mindfulness Series for Families. Youth and their families can follow along to short videos as CWC staff members share their own mindfulness practices while enjoying the peacefulness of the San Lorenzo River in the background.

As we all work together to navigate the challenges that arise from the COVID-19 pandemic and CZU Lightning Complex fires, CWC will adjust and adapt to the changes at school. While schools are currently in full distance learning mode, CWC is also preparing to engage students in outdoor learning on the school campus when schools re-open.

The Coastal Watershed Council would like to thank local environmental education organizations for their collaboration, problem-solving and comradery during this time. CWC offers a particular thanks to Santa Cruz County Office of Education’s Environmental Literacy Coordinator Amity Sandage for her leadership and guidance to local environmental education organizations during this time. In such a challenging time, it is powerful to see the outpouring of support from the Santa Cruz community.

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