Young leaders use Project WET activities to serve their community and mentor others

Junior Leaders from the Boys and Girls Club of Napa Valley took a kayak trip as part of a water education program.Junior Leaders from the Boys and Girls Club of Napa Valley took a kayak trip as part of a water education program. The Napa Valley Register described part of a recent water education program led by the Napa County Resource Conservation District (RCD) as “a flotilla of students” taking to the river “to learn the mysteries of the local watershed.” It was an apt description, according to a recent email from Eric McKee, RCD’s education program coordinator. McKee helped design the comprehensive program that combined kayaking with Project WET water education activities, community service and peer teaching. After hearing about the program from California Project WET Coordinator Brian Brown of the Water Education Foundation, we asked Eric to tell us more about the California initiative, which he hopes to scale up in the future:

We worked with Junior Leaders from the Boys & Girls Club of Napa Valley (BGC), a cohort of 11 students from 6th – 10th grades who have exhibited leadership qualities amongst their peers. The program, which was funded by the Napa Countywide Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program, brought together not only RCD and BGC but also the Friends of the Napa River (FONR). Kayak Napa Valley provided a discount on the kayak rentals.

Students had never kayaked before taking this trip.Students had never kayaked before taking the 3.5-mile upstream trip. The RCD and FONR planned and led the students—who had never kayaked prior to this trip—on a 3.5-mile, one-way upstream kayak tour through the southern reach of the Napa River. Once on the river, students participated in place-based experiential learning activities about salinity, tides and our watershed. We stopped for snacks, observed nesting osprey and other shorebirds and played games based on the concepts and terminology from “Seeing Watersheds” (a Project WET activity that helps students understand what watersheds are and how their boundaries are determined). We also invited a member of our local county Board of Supervisors to speak with the students about the history of the river and to share his vision of the future of stewardship of waterways in our community. After kayaking, we spent time picking up litter along the banks of the river to do some community service.

BGC Junior Leaders trained with Eric McKee to learn how to teach younger kids about water topics.Eric McKee trained the BGC Junior Leaders to teach younger kids about water topics. One week later I rejoined the same cohort at the Boys & Girls Club to train them to lead 10-minute water education activity stations. The students worked in pairs to learn key terms and to figure out the best ways to lead their younger peers through their stations. Once confident in their stations, we returned a few days later to do some peer-to-peer education. Fifteen 3rd-grade students split up into three activity stations of 10 minutes each, led by the Junior Leaders.

The station activities were “Seeing Watersheds”—customized to focus on the Napa River Watershed—“H2Olympics” and a salmon-scenting migration game about our native chinook salmon. Afterwards, we played water games to finish out the day.

Third grade students retained many of the concepts that the older students taught them during the activities.Third grade students retained many of the concepts that the older students taught them during the activities. The Junior Leaders did a great job learning their stations and knowing the content but also learning how best to facilitate and instruct others in learning the material. They were eager for the responsibility and really enjoyed the experience. The 3rd-grade students had the option to share “something they learned, or something they loved” at the end of the day, and to my surprise, many recalled information with great specificity about our home watershed, storm drains’ connections to creeks, the effects of litter and properties of water. Anecdotally, they seemed to retain and recall information much more effectively in this peer-to-peer model than in other presentation methods.

After seeing how rewarding and effective the program was, I would love to implement this on a greater scale.

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