Here’s How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

In our mission to build a generation of future leaders that love and respect water as much as we do, we don’t take a break for summer vacation. In fact, often the best time to reach kids is when they don’t think they’re learning. That’s why we partner with after school programs and summer camps for some sneak-attack water education.

Here are some of the highlights from our summer “break.”

Niños de la Promesa

Decomposition Trash Activity in Tijuana

Water connects us all, no matter what side of the border we live on. International cooperation and regionwide thinking is a vital part of protecting and restoring San Diego County’s fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters. That’s why we partnered with the Tijuana orphanage, Niños de la Promesa, to bring water education to 54 future stewards of our water. Did we mention our Water Education For All curriculum is bilingual?

Refugee Children in City Heights


We brought hands-on water science education to 25 refugee children from all over the world.  

Junior Lifeguards

Junior Lifeguards Playing Water Jeopardy

We joined the Junior Lifeguards for interactive learning at two Environmental Day fairs with City of San Diego departments, including Transportation and Stormwater, Wastewater and Pure Water. With kids sitting alongside the water, the opportunity was perfect to expand their knowledge of local habitats, urban runoff and pollution prevention.

How We Help Teachers Grow Future Leaders

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

project-swell-middle-schoolTeachers know that in order to make sure our region has responsible leaders and residents in the future, we must raise a generation of science-minded students with an awareness of our regional water issues and a commitment to conserving resources. Sounds like a challenge to accomplish in the classroom, right? We thought so, too. That’s why we created Project SWELL.

Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership) is a completely free, standard-aligned, K-6 science curriculum about the importance of San Diego County’s water. San Diego Coastkeeper, City of San Diego’s Think Blue and San Diego Unified School District partnered to develop this teacher curriculum complete with models, hands-on projects and field experiences to spark students’ inner scientist, environmentalist or future responsible decision maker, all while reinforcing state standards.

Through Project SWELL, San Diego Coastkeeper provides teachers with training and in-class support including free classroom presentations, experiment kits and lesson plans. From showing first graders how trash from the schoolyard can hurt marine animals to helping sixth graders build their own watershed model, Project SWELL allows teachers to explain local environmental problems while ensuring that students meet Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math as well as Next Generation Science Standards.

During 2014 alone, San Diego Coastkeeper’s Project SWELL experts provided classroom presentations to 2,900 students in San Diego Unified School District and provided Project SWELL science education kits to hundreds of teachers for use in teaching hands-on science to students. In addition to working with San Diego Unified School District, we also provide free environmental literacy and stewardship resources to any and all educators interested in bringing water-based science education to their students and communities through Water Education for All. This includes homeschool groups and teachers outside the district, clubs, scouting organizations, camp leaders, artists and many other informal educators. Click here to browse these materials and download lessons for free.

This 12-Year-Old Knows What it Takes to Save the Planet

This is a story about a 12-year-old girl from San Diego who loves surfing, art and making the world a better place. One day she contacted San Diego Coastkeeper to share her story, and what we heard was not only impressive, it is an inspiration.

Paige realized that there was a big problem the world faced – ocean pollution. She knew that much of our trash ended up in one of her favorite places, the ocean, making it dirty and unhealthy for the marine creatures that lived there. What she did next proves that anyone could make a positive impact when they take action. Starting with a recycling program at her school, we’re excited to see the impact her newest project will make.

Paige M water bottle braceletSMALLI asked our little ocean hero to share her story and this is what she told us:

Coastkeeper: What inspired you?

Paige M.: “My 4th grade teacher at Del Mar Pines School inspired me to start the recycling program. She asked if I could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?”

CK: When did you start the project?

PM: “I started planning for the project in the spring of my 4th grade year but officially launched the recycling program the fall of my 5th grade year.”

CK: How many students participated in the recycling program?

PM: “Everyone at school – students and their families, staff and teachers – are welcome to participate. We host collection days on campus twice a month where families can bring their recyclable plastic drinking bottles from home. I also placed specially marked collection bins around campus that my committee and I check weekly.

CK: Why did you want to take on this project?

PM: “Our landfills only have limited space. Recycling helps take out a lot of unnecessary waste in the landfills. If we recycled every plastic bottle we used, we would keep two billion tons of plastic out of landfills. It’s also cool to see all the things that recycled bottles can become – like sleeping bags.”

Paige M  DMP recycling committeeSMALLPaige makes her moves

Paige started a recycling program to raise money for her school foundation. She created an education program and recruited a committee of schoolmates to help. In the fall of 6th grade, Paige designed a charm bracelet using the water bottle logo she created for her recycling program. She sold the bracelets and donated the money to, a charity that produces safe drinking water in Africa, South Asia and Central America.

She also wrote and illustrated a short story called “Kayas Undersea Adventure.” The story is about a girl who goes surfing and gets transported to an underwater world that’s polluted. The surfer girl returns home and finds ways to encourage others to correct the pollution she had seen. Paige dedicated her book to San Diego Coastkeeper, because she thinks that our mission of keeping San Diego’s waters fishable, swimmable and drinkable is cool!

She thinks the best way to convince kids to make a difference is to hear it from other kids. Her parents are looking into publishing her story and donating the proceeds from sales to San Diego Coastkeeper. If you want to help just contact us.

Published in Marine Debris

Every Day Should Be Water Day

environmental education san diegoAn April 17 U-T San Diego editorial, “Time to teach our kids where water comes from,” encourages our leaders to launch a California Water Awareness Day to prepare future generations to take on water supply challenges.
We believe our education system should integrate water awareness every day. 
When we teach children the importance of washing their hands before eating, we do not do this one day, we do it EVERY DAY.  As result, children make this part of their daily routine and the message—and its health benefit—lasts a lifetime. When we talk to kids about the environment—specifically the importance of water and where our water comes from—we also need to do it every day to ensure we develop mindful adults that carry this important message with them throughout a lifetime.
Water is an interdisciplinary topic that can be used as a teaching tool for reading, writing, science, history, art and math. Teachers and students should take advantage of the great water curricula available (California Education and the Environment Initiative curriculum, FOSS, Project WET, Waves, Wetlands, and Watersheds, and Project SWELL, just to name a few). 
SWELL 19 cropLaunched in 2003, Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership) curricula are now available for San Diego Unified School District K-6 and Oceanside Unified School District 5th and 6th grade classrooms. It includes thirty-six, standard-aligned lessons with a focus on San Diego’s regional waters. Hands-on lessons help students learn about our local aquatic animals and their habitats; our local watersheds, lakes and rivers; our water supply; and opportunities for water conservation and pollution prevention. Project SWELL is provided FREE through a partnership among San Diego Unified School District, Think Blue and San Diego Coastkeeper.
If we want future generations to be ready to take care of our resources and to thrive in the next generation of clean tech jobs, we need to prepare them now with the necessary skills. Water awareness is the first step to engage future leaders in sustainable water management. 
Let’s not stop at Water Awareness Day, but Water Awareness Every Day. 

Educators Come Together to Discuss Science Curricula, Including Project Swell

San Diego Coastkeeper recently had the exciting opportunity to take part in the San Diego Science Educators Association conference. The conference serves as an opportunity for educators of all grade levels to explore new standards, gauge the impact these standards might have on their curricula,Jocelyn at SDSEA and learn tools to help bridge the gap between outdated and newly approved methodologies.

Because the California Department of Education recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) model, many science educators intimated that they were very anxious to discover the impact of these new standards on their lesson plans.  More than 500 educators came together to share ideas and collaborate on the goal of motivating and encouraging a love of science in their students.

Coastkeeper’s own Sandra Lebron hosted a 50 minute session entitled “Project SWELL’s Environmental Education Curriculum”, where she spotlighted techniques that both spark the scientist in students and improve their speaking, reading, writing, and math skills. She emphasized that students of all ages can be inspired to make changes when they recognize the environmental implications of human activities on our waterways. In providing young people this lesson, she suggested, we can empower and embolden a new community to protect San Diego’s waterways.

Project SWELL also had an opportunity to host a booth where we were happy to hear from many fans of the Project SWELL curriculum and have the chance to introduce the program to some who had not discovered it. In addition to workshops, there were also several other  science-related area businesses and organizations hosting booths, they included the Wild Animal Park, CPO Science, the Living Coast Discovery Center, and Lockheed Martin.

It was very interesting to see the wide array of techniques already available to assist educators in the shift to the Next Generation Science Standards; they ranged low tech solutions like simple paper and water, to the more high tech like tablet and other electronic tools.  If the energy in the conference was any indication, a lot of San Diego students will be buzzing about science soon. That could spell good things for fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters in San Diego!

Four Ways to Stay Informed about the San Diego Bay Shipyards Cleanup

The Shipyards cleanup is finally about to start. 

After decades of studies, plans, negotiations, expert reports, technical reports, legal posturing, and public hearings, we are poised to see contaminated dirt removed from San Diego Bay.  This cleanup is a critical step towards healing our bay so that it can once again be safe to feed our families fish from the bay.

TSD-Clean-Bay-Project-Maphe cleanup is slated to start by September 17 so the dredging will continue through the fall and winter months, ending before the least tern nesting season, which starts April 1.

So how can you stay on top of the cleanup progress?  What if you live or work near the shipyards and need to contact someone with a question or concern during the cleanup?  Here’s how you can stay informed:

1.  Attend a public meeting about the cleanup on Tuesday, September 10 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Barrio Station, 2175 Newton Ave, San Diego, 92113.

2.  Fill out this survey.  You can mail it back to the shipyards at: PO Box 420785, San Diego, CA 92142  or email it to  The survey lets the shipyards know how you want to stay informed about the cleanup progress–by mail, e-mail, social media or public meetings.

3.   Check out the cleanup webpage.  It contains lots of good information about the cleanup, including information about the route trucks carrying the dredged dirt will take to the highway, and a contact page where you can leave a message or get on the mailing list or e-mail list.  Information on the website is in both English and Spanish.

4.   Call the cleanup hotline at (855) 817-4397.  It contains a cleanup update message in both English and Spanish and allows you to leave a message.


Project SWELL Teaching the Teachers

Lana_1Last week, San Diego Coastkeeper and Think Blue San Diego hosted their second set of professional development workshop for the 2012-2013 academic year. During the two-day event over 20 elementary school teachers from San Diego Unified School District were trained to use  Project SWELL in their classrooms effectively.

Thanks to our three fantastic professional development instructors, countless students will be exposed to the hands-on lessons that center around the preservation and betterment of our local waters.

Project SWELL was developed through a ground-breaking partnership between San Diego CoastkeeperThink Blue (the City of San Diego) and the San Diego Unified School District. Project SWELL is a school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the PDimportance of the San Diego region’s waterways.  Project SWELL helps teachers empower students about water quality issues and helps them to understand how to improve  the condition of San Diego waterways.

Each SWELL unit of study (grades K-2 and 4- 6) consists of five or six age-appropriate, standards-based lessons that build student understanding of San Diego’s aquatic environments and emphasize the actions that students can take to improve them.

More information about Project SWELL can be found on our website:


2013 Water Conservation Film/ Poster Contest for Students

2013 Water Conservation Film Contest for High School Students

Who: The contest is open to all high school students and all college students in the cities of San Diego, Coronado and Imperial Beach.

What: Create a 30-second Public Service Announcement

When: Entries due April 10, 2013

: All contest entrants will be recognized, and the finalists’ films will be shown at a special “Red Carpet Premiere” at the IMAX Theater at the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park

The film contest creates an opportunity to engage students directly about the importance of using water wisely, allowing the creativity of the students to inspire the rest of our community to use water more efficiently.

la-jolla-tide-pools-sTheme: Storylines must use one of the following “how-to” messages:
How to “waste no water” by planting native or California-Friendly® plants.
How to “waste no water” by using a rain barrel.
How to show that “wasting no water” is important to San Diego’s economy.
How to create a sustainable world by “wasting no water.

Water Conservation Poster Contest for Students in Grades 1-6
Deadline: March 27.
Calling all students in grades 1-6! The City of San Diego Public Utilities Department is looking for the next Picasso. This year’s theme: tell us how you, your family, your school, or your team “wastes no water.” Fill in the blank: _____ wastes no water and draw a picture of how they use water wisely.

Water is one of our most precious resources and using it wisely is part of keeping San Diego sustainable. A certificate of participation will be given to every student who creates a poster. Prizes for the winners will be presented at a San Diego City Council presentation.
Recognition: Prizes will be awarded at a San Diego City Council presentation in May 2013. Winning posters will be featured in the 2014 Water Conservation Poster Calendar. Winning posters will also be on display throughout San Diego, including:
City Administration Building – Lobby: May 2013
San Diego Watercolor Society Gallery: June 2013
San Diego County Fair – Kids’ Best Art Exhibit: June 2013

Prizes: Gift cards will be given for each grade level for first place, second place, & third place. An overall winner for the Recycled Water Category will also win a gift card.


Students Discover the Impact of Marine Debris

Every time I present at a school, I am always struck by how hungry students are for hands-on environmental education. Revently, I had the pleasure of meeting with over 200 students from Linda Vista Elementary and Carson Elementary school.SDCK_1

The students were in the middle of an environmental curriculum and were looking for additional engagement around the topic of water quality and pollution control. To augment their learning, San Diego Coastkeeper came in to teach a hands-on lesson from Project SWELL,  school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region’s waters.

Each lesson began with a simple question: What is marine debris and how does it affect the animals that live in marine environments? After spending a few minutes brainstorming ideas the students got an opportunity to model how entanglement can affect a sea animal.

Sarah Hargis, the Literacy Supervisor at Linda Vista Elementary had this to say about the presentation:

“[This] presentation not only gave real insight to our students’ questions, but also gave them hands-on activities that simulated real situations that occur in the environment due to human negligence. We wouldn’t have been able to have a successful environmentalism unit without Ms. Gipson’s presentation. We look forward to having her visit again and continue being part of our effort to educate students on the environment.”SDCK_2

Thanks Sarah! I look forward to working with your students again.

Interested in learning more about Project SWELL? Visit us online at


San Diego Coastkeeper at Millennial Tech Middle School

We spent a great evening at Millennial Tech Middle School’s Winter Science Festival in the Chollas View neighborhood of San Diego. San Diego Coastkeeper Core volunteer Caitlin, San Diego Coastkeeper’s education coordinator Nia, and I were on-hand to provide brief 25-minute educational sessions on marine debris.

The ‘Marine Sea Animal Entanglement Exercise’ was shared with students and their parents. Eliciting answers to questions regarding how marine debris such as plastic bags, cigarette butts, oil, and other items end up in the ocean and have their effect on sea life from students was fun and students always provided many examples of how this happens. Students know remarkably well the effects of pollution on their environment and how it can affect marine life as they explain it to everyone participating in the exercise.MTM_2

The exercise has students (and parents) pinch their fingers together like a dolphin beak or rostrum, pick up beans scattered on their table (representing fish), and placing them in a container for a 30 second time span. Each student then counts how many fish she or he caught and scores are tallied. Then a rubber band (representing a plastic bag entangled on the beak) is placed over the fingers and students again try to catch fish for 30 seconds. Scores are tallied and students can see the effects that this has on animals trying to survive in the wild.

One of the more interesting discoveries by most parents doing this exercise is that San Diego sewage and stormwater drainage are really two separate entities, that is, stormwater does drain directly into the ocean taking all the trash that accumulates on streets and watersheds with it directly. Educating parents and their young students in outreach activities like this is another step to moving towards San Diego Coastkeeper’s goal of having swimmable, fishable and drinkable water for everyone.

Millennial Tech Middle School is a magnet school with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Post written by Hector Valtierra. Hector is a member of San Diego Coastkeeper’s Community Advisory Council.