CWC’s Watershed Rangers afterschool program engages students to learn about and take action to help the San Lorenzo River. And it is more than that. A key aspect of the program is the impact it has on youth beyond what they learn about the environment. With a focus on inclusion, equity and social-emotional development, Watershed Rangers can be the difference-maker for a student struggling in school.

For example, the Watershed Rangers after-school program cohort at Bay View Elementary received an additional student part-way through the 12-week program who we will refer to as John. Not only was John new to the Watershed Rangers program and the afterschool program in general, but he was new to Bay View Elementary and new to the Santa Cruz community. John was understandably timid and quiet as a new student in a new town in the middle of a school year.

This afterschool group had been bonding for months and many of the students had been classmates for the past four years. These students didn’t intentionally keep John out of the conversation or ignore him, but it was clear after his first week that there were opportunities for the group to practice acceptance and inclusion. By modifying the design of activities and discussions, John was given opportunities to work one-on-one with different students and get to know everyone in addition to participating in group games and lessons.

After his third week, and based on his huge smile, it was clear that John had become as much a part of the Watershed Rangers group as any of the other students. In fact, Jonathan became a leader! His new friends turned to him to hear stories of the mountains where he grew up. Beyond the environmental learning and action this group had taken during the course of the Watershed Rangers program, John had become comfortable being vocal about ways we can protect wildlife, how to conserve water and how he connects with nature. The entire Watershed Rangers cohort became stronger because of this “new kid” turned friend.

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