Watershed Education Initiative (WEI)
Sierra Nevada Journeys’ Watershed Education Initiative is a dynamic education program intentionally designed to build understanding of student’s local watershed, including human impacts on the watershed, water quality, and issues surrounding watershed protection. Conducted over a four-week period, The program begins with an orientation for new participating teachers to give an overview of the content and format of the program. after the teacher orientation, our educators go into classrooms and teach two lessons. Each lesson fosters students’ interest in science by using hands-on activities like creating a watershed model.
The program culminates with a 3-hour field study at a local nature site to apply what they’ve learned in a real-world context. For the Watershed Education Initiative, field sites include Oxbow Nature Study Area, Galena Creek Regional Park or the Nature Conservancy’s McCarran Ranch Preserve. Students explore, assess, and collect data about the health of the Truckee River Watershed by observing the river, collecting macroinvertebrate species for study, and discussing how we can use the data to make a determination of health. The program also embeds opportunities to build critical thinking skills and social emotional learning.
While in-class and field-based lessons reach students, WEI’s additional outreach components serve to support teachers, engage families and reach community volunteers. Through extension lessons, Sierra Nevada Journeys supports teachers in getting their students back on track after distance learning and extending watershed learning beyond the Sierra Nevada Journeys-led learning experiences. Classroom teachers receive additional materials covering watershed exploration and our instructors work one-on-one with classroom teachers during orientation to identify strategies that deepen student learning. We also engage families through a follow-up email that includes questions for guardians to discuss with their students, a link to photos from their field day, and information about the field site so they can visit together. We also engage parents as chaperones during our programs field trips to support student learning and bolster family engagement and excitement about learning objectives.
Sierra Nevada Journeys believes that science and nature are for everyone. We prioritize partnerships with schools that primarily serve youth who have historically been denied access to high-quality science education and outdoor learning experiences. With this funding, Sierra Nevada Journeys will serve 700 students in approximately 26 classrooms in the Truckee River Watershed. Students served with this grant will be those who have the highest financial and learning needs, ensuring we address the science and outdoor equity gap.
In Summary, the Watershed Education Initiative includes:
- The school-based component includes two in-class lessons (three) hours of in class instruction. Students participate in hands-on lessons that incorporate the Truckee River watershed, point and non-point source pollution, invasive species, sources and impacts of erosion, water conservation and stewardship.
- The field-based component includes approximately one day of outdoor science education as students hike along the Truckee River Watershed. Students seek clues related to the health of the watershed and determine water quality by collecting and identifying macro-invertebrates or conducting chemical tests such as pH, dissolved oxygen, or turbidity. Students use evidence to make a conclusion about the health of the Truckee River Watershed.
- SNJ provides five ready-to-use classroom extension lessons for teachers that help students prepare for and review learning objectives, as well as extend and reinforce each SNJ-directed lesson.
- To encourage family engagement, SNJ provides teachers with a template to email parents with a summary and pictures of their child’s experience after each unit along with information for family-based discussion of the curriculum.
- The volunteer component of the program builds our capacity to involve the local community and broadens accessibility to our programming for low-income schools by helping to keep costs low.
WEI is an education program that addresses water, water quality and watershed protection for K-8th grade students, directly aligning with grant priority VI: Stewardship and Environmental Awareness. Students gain first-hand experience determining water quality, explore human impacts on their water source, and obtain skills, knowledge and a field experience to connect them to their local river. The overall long-term program impacts include:
- Students understand important science concepts related to the Truckee River watershed and can articulate how their actions affect the Truckee River watershed and local ecosystems.
- Teachers use extension lessons and implement more hands-on exploration of the watershed. Parents and community members engage in watershed education directly through WEI volunteer.
- Health of the Truckee River watershed and local ecosystems improves as students and their families adopt environmental stewardship practices that help reduce water pollution and human impacts.