Cathy and Keith are on a mission to make a difference. For more than five years, Cathy Stiefel and Keith Behner have partnered with San Diego Coastkeeper to massively expand the reach of our education program, Project SWELL. Because of their passionate engagement and tremendous generosity, local water issues and a conservation ethic have permeated classrooms across the County. They see inspiring, hands-on water education for our next generation of leaders as a vital part of a more fishable, swimmable, drinkable future for San Diego County.
Last year, Cathy and Keith made it possible to expand our team with our Project SWELL education specialist. The expansion has had an incredible impact on the program, allowing San Diego Coastkeeper to reach more future leaders more effectively with inspiring, formative education experiences.
“In the time that Keith and I have been supporting Project SWELL, the program has grown substantially – serving more grades, training more teachers and reaching more schools and students,” says Cathy, who is also a board member of Coastkeeper.
Cathy and Keith’s engagement is truly an investment in San Diego’s future. You can thank them for the engaged community members and the smart decision making for our water in the next couple of decades. Or, if your kids cite the dwindling water levels in the Colorado River Basin the next time they refuse to take a bath, you can thank Cathy and Keith for that, too.
“We believe that childhood science education is critical to developing an educated and aware citizenry for our region. There is no more important issue in San Diego than water quality and the sustainability of water resources in our unique coastal environment. We have been more than gratified by the growth of the program and the enthusiastic reception from teachers and students alike,” says Cathy.
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.”
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.
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.
Teachers 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.
How San Diego Coastkeeper took water education to the next level in 2015-2016
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. Through Project SWELL, San Diego Coastkeeper provides all San Diego Unified School District teachers with free science kits and trainings. The curriculum explores the impacts of humans on our waters through a hands-on course of study focusing on water quality and pollution prevention.
This past school year, Project SWELL got a major boost. Thanks to a generous donor, we hired Julie Earnest as our dedicated education specialist for Project SWELL and the results have been stellar.
The 2015-2016 school year was filled with lots of hands-on experiments, watershed models, marine debris activities and storm drain field trips for 4,460 K-6th grade students and 300 teachers. Our tireless and overly enthusiastic education specialist, Julie, offered 83 SWELL presentations in 67 schools in San Diego Unified School District.
To evaluate the effectiveness of Project SWELL, we surveyed students before and after the classroom presentations. The results of the K-6th grade student surveys showed us that more students now understand the importance of keeping our waters clean and have the desire to prevent pollution. But don’t take our word for it — see the results yourself.
Check out how the younger students showed us what they learned with these inspirational art pieces:
Imagine the next generation of students making responsible environmental decisions because they know we should take care of the environment every day. This could mean a new generation of leaders that will be caring for our planet and teach others to do the same — the ultimate goal of environmental education.
After the classroom presentations, 96 percent of teachers said:
- The presentation was engaging to their students
- They would recommend the presentation to a colleague
- They were more confident incorporating the Project SWELL curriculum into their classroom
Teachers in San Diego County can request a free professional development workshop at their schools whenever they want or join us in our scheduled workshops at the Advanced Water Purification Plant or at the District’s Instructional Media Center.
Since we started visiting schools in 2014, we have brought Project SWELL to a total of 96 schools and 7,362 K-6th grade students. Not bad for a team of two educators, some awesome interns and the support of our local donors and partners.
2nd Grade Student Surveys
2nd grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:
- Q1: When water goes down the storm drains in San Diego, what happens to that water?
- Q2: After it rains, why is the ocean in San Diego unsafe for swimming?
3rd – 4th Grade Student Surveys
3rd-4th grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:
- Q2: After it rains, why is the ocean in San Diego unsafe for swimming?
- Q3: What happens when “invisible” pollutants such as gasoline and fertilizer go into the ocean?
5th Grade Student Surveys
5th grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:
- Q1: Most of the water in San Diego used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning comes from where?
- Q2: When water goes down the storm drains in San Diego, what happens to that water?
- Q4: When water inside homes, schools, and businesses goes down the drain and enters the sewer system, what happens to that water?
6th Grade Student Surveys
6th grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:
- Q2: What features determine the boundary of a watershed?
- Q4: When rainwater and urban runoff flow into storm drains in San Diego, what happens to that water?
- Q5: When water from inside our homes flow into the sewer system in San Diego, what happens to that water?
There was an average increase learning of 20-56 percent for all groups of 2nd, 3rd/4th, 5th, and 6th graders. Students showed an increase in knowledge about the difference between storm drains and sewers, where San Diego water comes from and how runoff pollution affects the ocean. This could help change behaviors in our students as well as their families and communities as they become advocates of our water resources.
San Diego Coastkeeper Education Programs
If you are not part of San Diego Unified School District, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Thanks to the support of the Port of San Diego, we’ve developed and piloted a new curriculum called Water Education for All. This is available online and has already reached nearly 3,224 children and adults in Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, Coronado, San Diego and National City.
Soon, our water’s fate will be out of our hands — our kids will be in charge. That’s why we’re excited to announce that over the past few months, we have educated and inspired over 875 children and their family members to love and protect San Diego’s water. By partnering with Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and League of Extraordinary Scientists, we brought Water Education For All curricula to classrooms countywide. And we keep working after the school bell rings to inspire young minds outside of class, too.
On October 6, 2015, we joined Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’s 52 Weeks of Science kickoff event, offering exciting, hands-on lessons about the specific water quality issues in kids’ own San Diego County backyards, rivers and beaches. Most importantly, we let them solve these problems on their own, offering them the thrill of building solutions to real problems that affect their families. These interactive projects are key to helping kids stay hooked on protecting our water for life.
On December 3, 2015, San Diego Coastkeeper presented at another 52 Weeks of Science event at the Boys and Girls club. We discussed the importance of water conservation and how students could start conserving as soon as they got home. We then brought out the crowd favorite, our hands-on watershed model, to demonstrate how urban runoff pollution travels from land to the ocean, and played a game to discover how long San Diego’s most common types of marine debris take to decompose.
We also teamed up with the League of Extraordinary Scientists and Engineers to incorporate our Water Education for All lesson on watersheds into its “Making Waves” tour held at libraries and community centers across San Diego. The League captured kids’ attention with the opportunity to interact with live marine organisms native to San Diego. Then, through our Water Education For All lesson and hands-on watershed model, they learned how our pollution on land can affect the health of these animals, building strong understanding of the importance of preventing urban runoff, the largest threat to San Diego’s water quality. Kids learned that urban runoff is made of pollutants like trash, dog poop, oil, cigarette butts and, as one student correctly suggested, “even hot cheetos.”
After the League witnessed our watershed curriculum and model inspiring both kids and parents to become environmental stewards, the its board of directors decided to permanently incorporate our watershed curriculum into its countywide classroom tours, which are anticipaed to reach 2,700 San Diego students in 2016. The League is even planning on building a larger mobile watershed with a clear floor and walls and gutters that lead to an artifical ocean.
You can help bring water education to even more future leaders in the coming months. Share water science with your classroom or familiy by downloading our free Water Education For All curriculum, available in both English and Spanish. We are grateful to the Port of San Diego, our education interns and our partners League of Extradordinary Scientists and Engineers and Reuben H. Fleet Science Center for making these lessons and events possible.
In Water Education For All Lesson 6: Water Conservation, Students will apply their knowledge of drought and water consumption to their everyday lives. Students will keep track of how much water they consume at home. They will ask questions like, “What ways can I conserve water in my home?” Students will be asked to identify and practice two ways of conserving water. This lesson encourage students to share their knowledge at home to include their families in a water conservation project.
- Water Conservation Lesson (English)
- Water Conservation Lesson (Spanish)
- Water Conservation PowerPoint
- Water Conservation Cards – Fair Style Lesson (English)
- Water Conservation Cards – Fair Style Lesson (Spanish)
- Water Conservation Activity Book
Check Out Other Lessons
In Water Education For All Lesson 5: Animal Adaptations, students discover ways animals change over time. Students will learn that animals can change in order to live in their own changing environment and discuss how San Diego coastal habitats lead local wildlife to develop certain characteristics. To cement the lesson students will create an animal of their own. They will have to think about what adaptations are necessary for their animal to live in a San Diego aquatic ecosystem – and be encouraged to be as creative as possible to give their animal an advantage!
- Animal Adaptation Lesson (English)
- Animal Adaptation Lesson (Spanish)
- A-Z San Diego Animal Guide Bilingual Coloring Book (English)
- A-Z San Diego Animal Guide Bilingual Coloring Book (Spanish)
- San Diego Habitats Prezi
- Build Your Own Animal Activity
- Aquatic Animal Activity Booklet
Check Out Other Lessons
In Water Education For All Lesson 4: Natural Hazards and Disasters, students learn about natural hazards that result from natural processes — and the water quality and water supply impacts. Humans cannot eliminate natural hazards, but can take steps to reduce their impact. It is important to note that severe weather doesn’t occur randomly, it occurs in specific times and places. In San Diego, we see drought due to climate change.
- Natural Hazards and Disasters Lesson (English)
- Natural Hazards and Disasters Lesson (Spanish)
- Drought PowerPoint
Check Out Other Lessons
In Water Education For All Lesson 3: Weather vs. Climate, students learn to distinguish between weather and climate using San Diego’s weather data over time (climate) and collecting temperature over a short period of time (weather).
Check Out Other Lessons
In Water Education For All lesson 2: Marine Debris, students come to understand the problems caused by plastic pollution, explore solutions and become engaged as stewards of our beaches, rivers, and other water bodies. Using data from San Diego Coastkeeper beach cleanups students will learn the most common item found on our beaches, why this is a problem for our ocean, wildlife and human health, and how to prevent marine debris pollution.
We included the “How Long Does It Take to Break Down?” Beach Cleanup Activity, a short hands-on lesson that can be taught during a beach cleanup or in the classroom. Students will learn how long our trash can last in the ocean and the effects on our marine life.
We also included a fable about a Garibaldi named Gerald. Gerald Discovers Debris will help your students to practice reading and writing while learning to care for the ocean and other living creatures (nice or naughty!).
- Marine Debris Lesson (English)
- Marine Debris Lesson (Spanish)
- Marine Debris Decomposition Lesson
- “How Long Does It Take To Break Down?” Beach Cleanup Activity (English)
- “How Long Does It Take To Break Down?” Beach Cleanup Activity (Spanish)
- Beach Cleanup Data Sheet (Spanish)
- Marine Debris PowerPoint
- Kids Story, “Gerald Discovers Debris”
- “Gerald Discovers Debris” Reading Comprehension Questions
- Marine Debris Activity Booklet