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Students explore water’s role in life

Bay Area elementary school students experience UC's Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center.

Pamela Kan-Rice, Assistant director, news and information outreach, UCANR

May 27, 2022

4 Min Read
UC Cooperative Extension specialist Sam Sandoval Solis, center, demonstrates how surface water flows into groundwater to fifth graders.UCANR

“I found so many things; I found a hermit crab, a starfish, a sea anemone,” exclaimed a Cherryland Elementary School student, his voice trailing off as he ventured back to the tide pools to explore more. The fifth grader from Hayward was participating in a 4-H Water Wizards course during a UC Cooperative Extension-sponsored field trip to Pescadero State Beach in San Mateo County.  

In May, University of California Cooperative Extension bused 120 fifth and sixth graders from Hayward's Cherryland Elementary School – where the student population is 86% Hispanic and 6% Black – to UC Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center in Half Moon Bay to learn about different aspects of water.

“These Black and Brown grade-school children are learning about water from people who look like them and speak like them,” said Frank McPherson, director of UC Cooperative Extension in the Bay Area, who is leading the launch of 4-H Water Wizards in the Bay Area. “As the students visit each experiential learning station and the ocean, the instructors are asking them thought-provoking questions like ‘How do you think the water will move through the landscape?' and ‘What do you see in the water?'”

4-H Water Wizards is designed to give socially disadvantaged students of color opportunities to meet diverse scientists and imagine career possibilities in science, technology, education and math, or STEM.

“I'm really happy that we were invited by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources to come out to Elkus Ranch so my kids can participate in an opportunity to engage in not only the fun that's out here, but also the animals,” said JoDana Campbell, Ed.D., Cherryland Elementary fifth grade teacher. “I was also really impressed with the number of scientists that are actually here on this ranch that were able to work with my kids at the varying stations about this idea of water and how we utilize water. Not only in California, but just generally in the world: how does water work?” 

This spring UC Cooperative Extension educator Tanya Henderson, in collaboration with Cherryland Elementary School teachers and Nancy Wright, Hayward Unified School District elementary science partner teacher, introduced four classes at Cherryland Elementary to the 11-week 4-H Water Wizards curriculum. One of the classes has had a series of substitute teachers all year, making Henderson the most consistent instructor for a few weeks.

'Remarkable' lessons

One teacher wrote to McPherson expressing her appreciation for the teaching assistance, saying, “I am especially grateful for Ms. Tanya, our teacher. Having another adult to co-teach is invaluable to say the least. Her teaching methods and care to engage students is remarkable.”

The field trip to Elkus Ranch and the ocean expanded on the classroom water lessons.

At the first of four learning stations, UC Davis graduate students used an Enviroscape model to show the Cherryland students how rainwater runoff moves through a community. The youngsters placed plastic houses on the landscape and fashioned clay into walls and dams to protect their houses from flood waters. After observing simulated rain on their community, the students discussed the results.

“The dam made it worse!” said one student.

“Maybe we should remove the dam,” said Cassie Bonfil, a UC Davis graduate student. “The water naturally wants to flow to the river. We're blocking it from going to the river, forcing it to go up into the houses.” 

Using sand between sheets of plexiglass as a window into a cross section of soil and an aquifer, UC Cooperative Extension specialist Samuel Sandoval Solis led the students in demonstrating the movement of water when it filters through soil into the ground and when water is pumped from wells.

Hands-on learning

In the Elkus Ranch children's garden, Henderson encouraged students to touch and smell plants that could be used to make soaps, salves and other products.

The students also interacted with the sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and other livestock that live at Elkus Ranch. Beth Loof, 4-H youth community educator, discussed the role of animals in agriculture as well as their relationships to soil, water and food systems.

“I just think it's a really good opportunity to engage inner city youth in something where they do not have an opportunity to engage in normally,” said Campbell, the Cherryland teacher. “This ranch is an awesome opportunity to come out to learn, there's a great museum up the way. My kids have been very excited about the whole process.”

The curriculum and educator are funded by a grant from USDA National Institute or Food and Agriculture, but to hire more buses to transport more schoolchildren to Elkus Ranch for the outdoor experience, McPherson is raising money. Donations to the Bay Area 4-H Water Wizards project can be made at https://donate.ucanr.edu/?program=California 4-H&county=Alameda.

Source: University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

About the Author(s)

Pamela Kan-Rice

Assistant director, news and information outreach, UCANR, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

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