UC Berkeley Interns Grow As Environmental Educators and Leaders

Written by Joanna Hoffman, Program Manager

University of California, Berkeley undergraduate interns helped make the KIDS for the BAY Strawberry Watershed Action Program a success for two years in a row! In the 2016-17 school year, UC Berkeley sophomores Rachel Hokanson and Chloe Koslo partnered with KIDS for the BAY and Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School third graders. In the beginning of the school year the interns observed and assisted KftB Instructors teaching in elementary school classrooms. By the spring they emerged as lead instructors during restoration Field Trips on the university’s campus. Rachel expressed that she developed her leadership skills during this internship, and Chloe reflected, “I learned that you need a solid combination of structure and letting go when teaching. You need to be prepared with an arsenal of variation, maintain a goal, and be flexible in each setting.”

The interns were trained as educators during this experience, and took pride in being the liaison between the elementary school and university campus. Chloe shared, “It was a really amazing experience to connect Berkeley elementary school students to the UC Berkeley campus. I loved being a part of this connection, and loved that the curriculum was all about local waterways. The hands-on learning through this connection was really profound, connecting to what’s actually around us. This program bridges community to science, applying science to everyday life!”

Rachel expressed her pride in the elementary school students. “A highlight of the program for me was during the second Field Trip. It was really awesome to see the students get excited about teaching the public about Strawberry Creek. It was cool to hear the students speak about information they had learned way back in the semester. It made me so proud and happy.” She also expressed that she loved the feeling of giving back to the community and the campus ecosystem. “It helped me to feel more connected to Berkeley.”

Thank you to the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund for helping to fund this program for the past two years. We are excited to continue our partnership with UC Berkeley’s Environment, Health, and Safety Department.

Learn more about the Watershed Action Program and register!


Discovering Plankton at the Martinez Marina

Written by Cayla Naranjo, Program Coordinator

“Plankton really doesn’t look like how it does in Sponge Bob!” exclaimed Tiana as she studied the tiny organisms in her field microscope. Fourth grade students from Marina Vista Elementary School in Pittsburg concluded their KIDS for the BAY Watershed Action Program with an exciting Field Trip to the Martinez Marina. They were thrilled to collect water samples from the delta, using a plankton net, and then observe zooplankton and phytoplankton under their microscopes.

Students were eager to share their knowledge from their KIDS for the BAY Classroom Lessons and their findings from the Field Trip. “Plankton are really small animals that live in the ocean.” Jose explained. “Whales and lots of other animals eat them. They are at the bottom of the food chain,” Maria added. Using plankton identification cards, Carlos identified the organisms under his microscope, “I can see a baby barnacle and a phytoplankton!”

The plankton study was a new and engaging experience for many of the students. Rashaud said, “I had never seen plankton before, or used a plankton net! And I’ve never been fishing before, especially not fishing for plankton!”

Young Scientists Return to the Creek They Helped to Restore

Written by Joanna Hoffman, Program Manager

Strawberry Creek meanders west from the Berkeley Hills through the UC Berkeley Campus and down to the San Francisco Bay. During the 2015-16 school year, fourth grade students from Rosa Parks Elementary School in Berkeley studied the Strawberry Creek ecosystem, and helped to restore a special creek habitat on UC Berkeley Campus. Students planted 60 red flowering currant plants, pulled out 10 wheelbarrows of invasive English ivy, and removed 154 gallons of trash from the riparian habitat. They also monitored the health of the creek, and taught college students about the importance and history of Strawberry Creek.

This spring, as fifth graders, the same students returned to investigate the question, “How did our restoration work affect Strawberry Creek?” When she saw her flowering currant plant, Louisa, a fifth grade student exclaimed, “I can’t believe how much my plant grew! I really did not expect that at all! It’s bigger than I am!” The students looked at pictures from when they transplanted the red flowering currents in October of 2015. Ben compared leaf counts. “Back then, there were only five leaves on my plant. Now there are 98! Now this plant is a whole ecosystem and home to lots of invertebrates.”

“I can see that our restoration work paid off,” said Megan. There are worms, beetles, rollie pollies and more animals living in this habitat today. Last year I hardly saw any invertebrates. That means that this habitat is growing because of our work!” Students also considered the impact restoration had on erosion. Matilda shared, “Because we planted red flowering currents, which are good at holding onto soil with their deep roots, we decreased erosion.”  “This helps the fish and other animals in the creek because if there is too much soil they can’t breathe or find food,” added Grace.

Rosa Parks Elementary School teacher Suzanne Ingley was very proud of her students. “It’s so great that we have returned to see our plants. The students are really engaged and curious about them. They are excited about their restoration project and they are making connections back to last year and to other science lessons we have done this year. I hope this will continue to deepen their connection with their local creek. Think of how proud they will be when they attend college here!”

Learn more about the Watershed Action Program and register!

Exploring the Berkeley Marina

Written by Cayla Naranjo, Program Coordinator

An exciting highlight of the KIDS for the BAY Watershed Action Program, for the third grade students from Fairmont Elementary School in El Cerrito, was their Field Trip to the Berkeley Marina!  The Field Trip began with rocky shore investigations; one of the classes was proud to find 33 crabs during their investigation! Students also discussed the adaptations of the creatures they found, and their favorites were camouflage and crabs’ claws. Arshdeep shared, “I really liked that I got to hold a little crab. I’ve never done that before.” Shayla agreed, “I’ll never forget when I found my own crab.” Mira shared, “I liked seeing the animals and the beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay!”

“Are we going to do another clean up here at the shore?!” Benjamin asked as he saw me pull out the clean-up tongs. Haznat shared, “We are picking up trash so that the animals that live in the bay don’t eat it.” During the clean-up, students filled a 5.45 gallon garbage bag and were surprised by how much trash they found on the shoreline. Tenzin shared, “I’m happy we got to help nature and help the animals we saw!” Ian added, “I got to go out and explore the beach, which I don’t normally get to do!”

Learn more about our Creek, Bay, & Ocean Field Trips and register!


Solutions to Plastic Pollution

Written by Aislinn Sterling, Program Manager

Many of us know that the choices we make at the grocery store affect our health but did you did you know those choices can also affect the health of our oceans? Have you ever thought about where our garbage goes when we throw it “away”? Third grade students at Glorietta Elementary School in Orinda become experts on the harmful environmental effects of plastic pollution and how to reduce landfill and ocean waste. They shared their knowledge with the rest of their school through creative presentations in order to help create a zero waste future.

Each group of students shared a different message about how to reduce plastic pollution in our landfills and oceans. Some students talked about specific products we buy, what happens to each of them and which choices create the least plastic waste for the environment. One group compared the extensive plastic waste created by individually packaged apple sauce cups and pouches to lower waste alternatives like bulk apple sauce in glass jars or simply buying apples instead.

Another student group shared information about various kinds of straws. “Plastic straws can’t be recycled,” Joseph explained, “so they end up in the landfill or the ocean.” “Paper straws are better because they can be composted,” he added. “Metal and glass straws are even better because they are reusable so they can be washed and used again and again!”

Tips about how to reduce plastic in landfills and the ocean, like how to pack a “Zero Waste Lunch” or how to cut back on food packaging waste by buying food in bulk were also featured in the presentations. Each group created a large visual to share their knowledge with the entire school, including every student in the school and family members as well.

Register for one of our many exciting Environmental Action Projects!



Investigating San Francisco Bay Life

Written by Andrew Patel, Program Coordinator

“These fish are so amazing! I think they are really beautiful.” said Landry, a student in Ms. McIntire’s class. “Are we going to get to hold the fish?” asked Yarelli. GreenLeaf Elementary School third grade students in Oakland were excited to investigate Dungeness Crabs and Striped Bass fish and were thrilled to learn biology like real scientists. “I wonder how they move through the water, they must use their caudal fins to swim,” Sebastian shared.

I held a Striped Bass to share the fish anatomy and to demonstrate the most interesting ways to investigate the fish. As I lifted and moved the fins students gasped in excitement. Alex shared, “I think the dorsal fins have spikes to protect them from predators!”

After the demonstration the students investigated the bay organisms. “I want to hold the crab,” said Jasmine eagerly, “I think the pattern on the shell is really interesting!” The students used their senses to study the anatomy and the adaptations of the organisms. “The shell is really hard, and the space between the joints is soft, the abdomen is squishy and some parts of the crab are furry,” observed Carlos.

The students were focused and engaged. “You can see the gills and the red inside the fish,” said Alexa. “Wow! The tongue is really sharp and the teeth are so spikey!” Jordan replied, “Probably so it can break up its prey.”

After the students said goodbye to the fish and crabs, they washed their hands and shared what they learned from the investigation. Jackie said, “I found out that a crab has an abdomen that opens.” Kearsten said, “I liked feeling the way the Striped Bass body moves, it moves like an ‘S’ like this,” she and other students moved their hands back and forth, “I imagine it swims through water really well.”

Studying real organisms from the San Francisco Bay helps students connect with life in the watershed we all share and inspires them to help to protect and care for this special environment.

Green Alternatives to Toxic Pesticides

Written by Cayla Naranjo, Program Coordinator

Pesticides have been linked to environmental and human health hazards for over 50 years, yet they are still used in homes and gardens throughout the United States. Marina Vista Elementary School fourth grade students from Pittsburg studied the effects of pesticides and were eager to make a difference in their homes and community. Sabah said, “The problem is that toxic pesticides are sprayed on the plants and then get into food chains. Even people can eat it and sometimes get very sick.”

To begin their Action Project, students created a farm model to see how pesticides can spread throughout a watershed. After completing the experiment, Carlos concluded, “The pesticides went on the crops, into the ground, and to the water.” Jeremiah added, “The pesticides made the water poisonous, and if it was real life, the toxic pesticides could spread everywhere.”

The students then created an all-natural solution to using harmful pesticides in their homes and gardens, to protect plants, without introducing harmful chemicals into the environment. Students had the option to create a peppermint neem oil pesticide or an orange citrus pesticide.

Students wrote letters to their family members and friends to explain the importance of using their green pesticides and to explain how to make them in the future. Jadana said, “I am going to give this letter and pesticide I made to my grandma as a gift. She has a lot of plants and her birthday is coming up.”

Third and Fourth Grade Environmentalists Teach the Five Rs!

Written by Aislinn Sterling, Program Manager

Did you know that saying, “No thank you!” to a plastic straw or packing your lunch in reusable containers could help protect a sea turtle? Third and fourth grade students from Searles Elementary School in Union City put on an Assembly to teach their whole school and many of their parents about the importance of reducing plastic waste to keep our oceans healthy. “The most important thing I hope the audience learned is to save our earth!” shared Jeremy. “For example, they might think of picking up trash and telling people to use reusable things instead of disposable things. I think it is important that they learned this because they might think twice before littering and change their mind. Then our earth will be more clean and beautiful.”

The whole school community came together to learn from the students about how plastic pollution is harming ocean health and ocean life. Parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins were also part of the audience. Fourth grade teachers Ms. Mares and Mr. Bautista played sea turtles in the Assembly and the school principal, Ms. Raquel Bocage, played a whale—all in full costume! “I found the Assembly successful for the kids as well as the entire school,” Ms. Leda Mares commented. “We had a larger than normal group of students cleaning up litter on Friday and Monday. More students want to participate in keeping our school community clean.”

Important messages about practicing the Five Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot/Compost and Refuse) concluded the Assembly. “Being a Storm Drain Ranger means practicing the Five Rs,” one performer explained to the audience. “The Five Rs are tools to reduce waste.” Students shared how they have been practicing the Five Rs to reduce all the plastic garbage in the environment. “I’ve been practicing the Five Rs by bringing reusable containers for my lunch and I say no to straws,” said Claire. The students were so proud to have the opportunity to perform on stage and to be the teachers for a day! Together they informed their whole school of the harmful effects of plastic pollution and shared many waste reducing solutions to help create a cleaner, healthier future for all living things.

Third grade students make the best first grade teachers!

Written by Joanna Hoffman, Program Manager

“Usually I’m shy, but today my voice was strong!” third grade student Adrian from Berkeley Arts Magnet (BAM) Elementary School proudly exclaimed. BAM students in Berkeley took responsibility for the health of their watershed by spreading the word about plastic pollution. Kimberley was very excited to be a role model to the first graders. “It was cool to teach the first graders. They really seemed to understand that trash from our streets ends up in the bay through the storm drain system. I taught them that!” After the third grade “teachers” explained their hand-made colorful posters, they led their first grade buddies in a trash clean-up project. Altogether the classes picked up 632 pieces of trash from their schoolyard. “This is really important work,” shared Lina. “Now the first graders can spread the news and those people can spread the news and so on and everyone can help the watershed! Hopefully one day we can all live in a plastic pollution free world!”

Experimenting with Creek Engineering Models

“I think the creek covered in English Ivy looks less healthy because if there’s only one type of plant, there can’t be very many animals living there,” explained Aris, a third grade student from Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School. Aris and his classmates learned about creek restoration engineering by comparing historic photographs of creeks to figure out what makes a creek healthy or unhealthy. Using sand box models, the students then investigated how a creek habitat can be drastically changed by human engineering techniques. One student, Hanna shared, “The concrete channel actually increased erosion and then there was no habitat left for the animals! What were people thinking?!”

Students used cardboard pieces to represent creek-side plants in their models. Aris noticed, “I saw that the creek ecosystem is most healthy and has a natural, meandering pathway when there are creek-side plants along it.” This activity taught engineering concepts using model-building and was aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.

Last fall, Aris and his classmates grew native creek-side plant cuttings in their classrooms. This spring, they will use what they learned in their engineering experiments to help restore Strawberry Creek by planting red flowering currant and other native plants along the creek to prevent erosion, create habitat for animals and increase the beauty of the environment.

Learn more about our Environmental Action Projects.

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