Last Tuesday, third and fourth grade Watershed Rangers students in After School Academy were asked to brainstorm ideas and suggestions for their upcoming stewardship action projects. Students reflected on the field trips we’ve taken over the past few months and some got their ideas down on paper. However, it was clear that a few of the newer students were having a hard time with the brainstorming activity. 

“Who has been in Watershed Rangers before this year? What do you remember about the action projects?” I asked. Half a dozen hands shoot into the air. Many of these fourth grade, self-proclaimed big kids have been part of CWC’s Watershed Rangers programs since first grade, and you better believe they have some serious intel to share!  

Watershed Rangers planting California fuchsia along the San Lorenzo River (2021) 

“I remember the art project! We were at that bridge! We made posters about steelhead trout there when I was in second grade and then we passed them out to people. Don’t you remember?” asks a seasoned Watershed Ranger.  

“It’s by, um, it used to be a movie theater I think? And then it turned into a science building?” he says. I scratched my head. A science building downtown next to the San Lorenzo River? With the support of fellow students, we determine the “science building” he’s referring to is the DNA Comedy Lab, which had a logo of colorful test tubes and DNA strands (and is the new location for The 418 Project) across the street from what is now known as the Chinatown Bridge, which in past seasons has been a great place for field studies.

With their memories flooding back in the brainstorming activity, other students share out, “Yeah, I remember that bridge! Was that the same year we passed out baggies for people to clean up their dog poop? It was raining that day!” and, “I remember going to downtown and giving my river flyers to different stores- It was kind of awkward but really fun! Would anyone like to do that this year?” 

three times a ranger

One of the many Watershed Ranger flyers created in past years 

And just like that, with some shared memories from practiced Watershed Rangers, the newer students picked up on the momentum. They each developed and shared incredible action project ideas including a trash cleanup along the River, planting native plants, recording a video at the River and making a sign about the San Lorenzo River for their school campus.  

This isn’t the first time seasoned Watershed Rangers have stepped up to encourage and support their classmates; to watch two- and three-year Watershed Rangers share ideas and experiences with their peers is truly inspiring. These young scientists are even practicing the Coastal Watershed Council’s Theory of Change – Supporting the creation of projects that benefit both river and community while inspiring others to join them. 

Youth are our future, and they are also our present. The more we can support, encourage, respect, and acknowledge them today, the better off our community and our San Lorenzo River become. 

This work would not be possible without generous funding and support from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation and the City of Santa Cruz. Thank you for your continued dedication to environmental education and strong, healthy communities.   

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