How I Use Project WET: Reaching 23,000+ Students and Citizens a Year With Effective Water Education

Kristin Coon’s career in water education started in a way that might have frightened someone else away for good: She was unexpectedly pressed into service as a water educator for a class of third graders. She recently recalled that day in an email interview with Project WET:

H2Olympics activity at a California elementary school after school programKristin leads kids in the H2Olympics activity during the after-school program at Rosa Parks Academy in Stockton. “I had nothing; no idea how to reach out to them and share our message of water conservation and awareness. That first encounter was enlightening. I winged it - entertained the kids with a makeshift water filter and some coloring books - but afterwards I realized that I loved spending time with those kids – talking to them about water science and water conservation and listening to their thoughts and ideas on the subject was exciting and fulfilling. It was very clear to me that the most effective way to educate society as a whole about water conservation is through our youth; parents listen to their kids, and kids have a surprisingly deep understanding of why we need to preserve and protect our natural resources; they care.”

Kristin identifies that as the moment when she became “somewhat obsessed” with water conservation outreach. Not long after, she became the Stockton Area Water Suppliers (SAWS) Water Conservation Coordinator for the Stockton East Water District. That was 11 years ago. Kristin has been educating kids about water ever since.

Project WET California Coordinator Brian Brown brought Kristin to our attention, saying that Kristin has “come up with some pretty ingenious ways to integrate Project WET activities into her program, and she has been an inspiration for me and other water district staff around the state.”

Kristin Coon teaching kids using the H2O2Go program.Kristin Coon teaching kids using the H2O2Go program. Here is Kristin’s description of how she came to use Project WET, and how she continues to use it today:

For many years the SAWS educational outreach representative had been Sally Savewater, a Disneyesque character who visited the primary grades to encourage proper hand-washing and turning off the faucet when you brush, using the tag line “don’t be a drip, save every drop.” While the name was catchy and the character was entertaining for very young children, the program had very little educational value and nothing to offer teachers. I was convinced that the outreach efforts would be more effective and welcome in the classroom if we could tie into curriculum mandates; every grade level has content standards that involve water. Instead of getting in the way, the SAWS water education program would help teachers get their job done.

That’s where Project WET came in. I attended one of Brian’s facilitator training workshops, and the Project WET guide became my constant companion. I regularly trapped family and friends in my kitchen to count water drops, make edible aquifers and string beads for water cycle bracelets. My boss and co-workers had to endure hours of filtering, surface tension, adhesion/cohesion, evaporation, transpiration and precipitation demonstrations. I enlisted my husband and the plant operators at SEWD to help me make scale-model water filters and water quality testing equipment. My daughter had to pass the jug, make water matches and observe and identify macroinvertebrates. The Project WET program was packed with fun, educational activities that were designed with experiential learning in mind.

The SAWS Water Education Program is currently entering its twelfth year serving the Stockton metropolitan area. I administer the program, which includes scheduling, management and serving as back-up for our classroom instructors, Mrs. Kelly and Ms. Maria. The program offers seven different presentations for Kindergarten through Middle School, each specific to grade-level content and Common Core standards involving water. We also offer after-school/special event “H20lympics” water activity programs, staff activity booths at local youth-oriented festivals and events, and sponsor Zun Zun “Water Beat” assemblies in 10 Stockton area schools each year.

In the 2014/2015 school year, the SAWS Water Education Program reached 12,728 students in 368 classroom presentations, 1,285 students in 12 after school presentations, 9,455 students and citizens at youth-oriented festivals, workshops and tours and 4,730 students in 14 Zun Zun assemblies for a total of 23,538 students and citizens in Stockton.

I think the best testament to the impact the SAWS Water Education Program has had on the community is the difference between the previous water education program and what we have now. When the SAWS alliance was represented by the Sally Savewater outreach program, the schools showed little interest – it offered no curriculum connections and no hands-on participation for the students. When the current program was introduced in 2005, my most difficult assignment was getting into the schools and the classrooms; I was turned away time after time when I visited school principals and program coordinators. Fortunately, I persisted and eventually found a group of adventurous, environmentally aware teachers who were willing to take a chance. They invited us in, helped us critique and improve the program, fell in love with it and enthusiastically spread the word.

Ten years later, reservations open for our programs in early May, and we are fully booked by the time school begins in August, with a waiting list established by September. We get notes from teachers and letters and drawings from students telling us that they are embracing our message and sharing it with friends and family, and those letters never fail to mention the hands-on Project WET activities we have incorporated into our programs…  “I loved the experiment!” “My favorite part was the Pass the Jug game!” “I told my parents about the Water Match game!” “We had so much fun making water cycle bracelets!” My presenters and I are local celebs…in Safeway and Costco I often hear “Mom! There’s the Water Lady! Hi, Mrs. Coon!” Success! We have made a difference.

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