Clean water is a big concern for the San Lorenzo River, which provides drinking water for the City of Santa Cruz. The Coastal Watershed Council was originally founded in 1995 to focus on the water quality of rivers flowing into the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, and water quality has played a role in our programs ever since. Now, CWC has a newly revamped Watershed Rangers curriculum for sixth graders all about preventing pollution from bacteria, which our team successfully presented in January and February to five classes at San Lorenzo Valley Middle School, reaching 160 students  

The type of bacteria we are concerned about in waterways is Escherichia coli (E. coli), which occurs naturally in the intestines of humans and other mammals, but some can be harmful to people, pets, and wildlife when it ends up in our waterways. CWC educators Sam Adelson and Maria Rocha updated our existing lesson plans about bacteria to be highly relevant to students at San Lorenzo Valley Middle School. With the help of an E. coli plushie, they taught students about the “6 Fs of bacteria transmission: fingers, flies, food, fields, fluids, and fomites (surfaces).  Students learned that in general, bacteria are very important and we wouldn’t survive without our “microbiome of bacteria. Harmful bacteria like some E. coli, however, can lead to public and environmental health issues. For one activity, students got out their Chromebook laptops and analyzed water quality data from the Santa Cruz County Department of Environmental Health to observe where and when E. coli levels are highest and lowest. 

In these pages from their Watershed Ranger journals, students document sources of pollution in nature and on campus

To help students to visualize how harmful bacteria can enter the environment, our team used graphic organizers, which are picture cards that illustrate a chain of events: for example, if a dog or bird poops on the pavement, rain could fall and wash the bacteria into the river or ocean and result in a beach closure. On a field trip, students collected water samples and used field kits to test for E. coli. Samples from nearby Fall Creek stayed yellow, indicating no bacteriaStudents also collected water samples on campus by swabbing water fountains, puddles, and potholes near storm drains and the soccer field. Some of these samples turned pink, indicating the presence of E. coli 

Watershed Rangers at San Lorenzo Valley Middle School made these posters as Action Projects to help raise awareness about bacterial pollution from E. coli

Students observed fewer potential sources of bacterial pollution in nature compared to their school campus. Through discussion and a slideshow presentation, CWC staff and the SLVMS 6th graders reviewed ways that bacteria can enter the ecosystem and explored methods to prevent bacterial pollution from happening at home and at school. A core tenet of Watershed Rangers is to share what you know with others, and by creating themed action projects, the students did just that. Many made Public Service Announcement posters (like those above) that were shared on social media and included tips for preventing an E. coli outbreak, such as picking up after pets and washing hands. Other students made comic strips to share with schoolmates about not leaving food scraps and packaging at the school lunch area, which might attract wildlife that could expel E. coli around campus.  

Students survey a school storm drain for pollution

We’re so proud of this next generation of river stewards for sharing their learning with the community and working to make the San Lorenzo River a cleaner place! Thank you to the Santa Cruz County Green Schools Program and Santa Cruz City’s Watershed Education and Outreach program for funding these incredible opportunities to support a healthy and vibrant San Lorenzo River Watershed through youth education. 

Facebook Comments