Making a Difference: Teaching Water-literate Youth in Central Valley

Source: The Modesto Bee
Date: December 1, 2015
Journalist: Nan Austin

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Loralee Crawford feeds a tortoise in June in the animal room at the Great Valley Museum Science Center in Modesto, Calif. Photo by Joan Barnett Lee

HUGHSON – While drought, groundwater and climate issues around available water dominate regional news, the thought of pursuing degrees and careers in related fields has not percolated down to students. An effort to shift the tide will begin this spring in Hughson schools.

“We are ground zero for so many water issues,” said Meg Gonzalez, education director of the Tuolumne River Trust. Yet despite water’s statewide and national importance for agriculture, the environment and the economy, Gonzalez said most Stanislaus County youths have little to no knowledge about the Tuolumne River, or about local careers and jobs in water-related fields.

Her organization has received a $91,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant that will cover a little over half the cost of what the trust is calling a first-of-its-kind, K-12 water literacy program.

Hughson Unified will pilot water-related science and environmental programs for each grade level through the Water Ways initiative led by the Tuolumne River Trust. Classes and field trips will include lessons from the Great Valley Museum, Tuolumne River habitat restoration, Foothill Horizons outdoor education and the Ag in Motion mobile science lab.

“The goal of Water Ways is to ensure we have water-literate youth in Stanislaus County who are prepared to take on the challenges and fill the jobs that exist in the management of our local water resources. We will do this by bringing together a diverse set of community partners to create a K-12 program combining environmental science and locally relevant environmental issues related to water at every stage of our students’ learning,” said Gonzalez, who will be the project lead.

Local environmental educators, experts in water-related fields and schools in the Hughson Unified School District will collaborate over two years to provide over 2,000 students with two consecutive years of grade-appropriate lessons and career exploration.

The program is designed to be hands-on and experience-based, with the goal of creating young stewards of the river and environment. Results will help inform the development of a water literacy model that can be replicated in other school districts. Local professionals in water-related fields will be recruited to talk about their jobs and career paths for students.

Trust project partners are: Great Valley Museum, Foothill Horizon Outdoor School, National Ag Science Center, East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District, Stanislaus County Office of Education, UC Cooperative Extension, River Partners and Hughson Unified School District.

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Kids raft with Meg Gonzalez of the Tuolumne River Trust, seated on right, during Family Summer Camp at the Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto, in July 2013. The Trust has long provided family and school river education, and will lead a regional initiative to teach about water use, ecosystems and career opportunities.

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