KIDS for the BAY’s 2009 Strategic Plan
On October 18, 2008, KIDS for the BAY was presented with a prestigious and competitive national award from the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). The NAAEE recognized KIDS for the BAY for “Outstanding Service to Environmental Education” by an organization at the local level. The NAAEE hosts a professional development conference every year that brings together environmental educators and professionals nationally and globally with the purpose of promoting excellence in the field of environmental education. KIDS for the BAY Education Director Shefali Shah attended the conference to receive the award and was recognized at a luncheon award ceremony.
Since 1992 KftB has partnered with 44,000 students and 2,000 teachers. Our programs turn school students on to science, empower students to take environmental action and create a lasting impact through our unique Teacher Training and School Wide Impact models. Our commitment to best practices inspires our commitment to multicultural environmental education and diversity. Through our ten environmental education programs, KftB students are empowered to take action and change the environment one neighborhood at a time.
“ Receiving this award on behalf of KIDS for the BAY was not only an honor for me, but an incredible recognition of our organization’s work over the past 16 years. I was happy to have been chosen by KIDS for the BAY to receive this national award that acknowledges KIDS for the BAY as a leader in the field of environmental education.”
— Shefali Shah, Education Director, KIDS for the BAY
by Jason Mark, Earth Island Journal Editor
A condominium developer would die for the view from Misao Brown’s light-filled, plant-festooned third-grade classroom at Paden Elementary School in Alameda, CA. Eight-foot-tall windows look onto the sailboat masts of the town’s nearby marina and the waters of the San Francisco Bay, just yards away. On a crisp autumn afternoon, the Bay looks pristine, a blue-silver expanse stretching for miles to the distant San Mateo hills in the west.
But all is not well with the Bay ecosystem. Within the water lurk all kinds of environmental dangers. As guest teacher Kristina Cervantes is explaining to the children of Brown’s class, litter is jeopardizing the health of the Bay — paints and solvents are poured into storm drains, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and plastic bags are washed by rains into the bay, and from there are carried to the Pacific Ocean.
“A sea lion will grow, right? It can get real big, 300 pounds or so,” Cervantes says, as she holds up a plastic six-pack ring. “But does plastic grow? No. And then this gets caught around [a sea lion’s] neck.” Cervantes shows a picture of a sea lion wearing a six-pack ring like a choke collar.
Her presentation is part of a 20-hour curriculum in which she educates students about watershed ecosystems, the importance of environmental protection, and the many ways that they and their families can help preserve the environment. The environmental education program is organized by Kids for the Bay, a Berkeley, CA-based organization that for 15 years has successfully raised thousands of young children’s ecological awareness.
“We provide long-term, in-depth, multiple-experience programs to give students reasons to care about the environment,” says Mandi Billinge, founder and executive director of Kids for the Bay, an Earth Island Institute-sponsored project. “We go into the schools and work with them in their own environment. We train the teachers so that they get to learn alongside of their students, and they love that.”
Billinge, a native of Great Britain, started doing environmental instruction around the UK’s Humber Estuary, where she taught kids about their local environment. After moving to the US, she decided to launch a similar program focused on the San Francisco Bay. Kids for the Bay began with Billinge writing the curriculum at her kitchen table and carrying bags of equipment on the bus to teach at schools the next morning.
Today, Kids for the Bay has an 11-person staff, and works with schools throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The organization, funded by city grants and private philanthropies, reaches 4,000 students and 200 teachers a year. In 2005, the EPA recognized the group as one of the top environmental education programs in the US.
Kids for the Bay’s signature project is its Watershed Action Program, in which the instructors combine classroom exercises, field trips to local creeks and bay habitats, and service projects to get children to think about the importance of preserving healthy ecosystems. As part of the program, kids do a survey of litter in their neighborhood and talk with their parents about the proper disposal of paints, car washing soaps, and household hazardous waste. In addition to the Watershed Action Program, Kids for the Bay hosts a science summer camp, runs a recycling and composting curriculum, and organizes training seminars for teachers so they can keep the lessons going.
The centerpiece of Kids for the Bay’s approach is the idea of “education through action.” The curriculum always includes a project so children can help defend the environment. Many classes participate in trash clean-ups. Some groups have helped stencil “Drains to the Bay” warnings around storm drains. A few classes have built native plant gardens at their campuses. Recently, a class painted a large mural depicting the bay ecosystem.
These sorts of experiences, say Kids for the Bay instructors, are vital to getting children involved in creative problem-solving and critical thinking.
“It’s amazing how important it is to immediately get kids helping the environment,” says Sheela Shankar, the group’s associate director. “It’s a really simple and empowering thing.”
Kids for the Bay staff and the full-time teachers they work with say that such outdoor education is all the more important in an era of make-or-break school standards. Administrators and faculty have become so fearful of their students scoring poorly on state tests that they have drained much of the creativity from classroom instruction. At some schools, students are not allowed to take field trips until after the state testing is completed. Rising fees for school bus rental — which cost up to $600 per day — also make it difficult to organize out-of-class learning.
“We’re so grateful for this hands-on program,” says Brown. “With ‘No Child Left Behind,’ it’s all multiple choice. There’s no thinking. This is real learning — lessons that stay.”
Kids for the Bay balances the demands of state testing with the desire for more creative lessons by giving teachers hands-on curriculum that is designed to teach the core life science concepts required by the state.
“There should be standards. You need that assessment and evaluation,” Billinge says. “But you don’t want to be teaching to the tests so much that you lose the joy and fun of learning.”
Kids for the Bay tries to restore some of that fun simply by getting kids outside to learn. When Cervantes tells Brown’s students they are going outdoors, the whole room lights up with excitement, and a few kids nearly jump out of their seats. Soon the group is busy combing the bay shore for trash. The lesson has all the energy of a scavenger hunt. “Metal!” shouts one student. “I found glass,” yells another.
When asked why she likes to go outside to learn, seven-year-old Teshi Sakani says, “It’s fun because you get to see what you’ve been learning about.”
In the last 20 years, environmental education programs have blossomed around the country. One thing that distinguishes Kids for the Bay from peer organizations is its commitment to teaching children through their own cultures. In a region as ethnically diverse as the San Francisco Bay Area, having a multicultural and multilingual staff is a must. Kids for the Bay instructors say they go out of their way to expose students to environmental role models from their own ethnic communities. For example, when one of Cervantes’ classes was studying environmental justice, she sought hard to find a Tongan community activist, Sione Faka’Osi, who might engage the interest of one girl who seemed disconnected from the class.
“Our environmental justice focus makes us different,” says Shefali Shah, another instructor. “We work with a lot of low-income students and people of color communities that are really impacted. A lot of my students know about refinery explosions because they’ve lived through it.”
Another element of the Kids for the Bay program that distinguishes the group is its emphasis on continuing education. The education-through-action model creates a structure in which kids are continually coming back to their project — be it a garden or a restored creek — and in the process are developing lasting relationships with the ecosystems on which, as they are learning, our civilization depends.
“We’ve worked at Stege School for three years, and I saw real change in the students,” says Associate Director Shankar. “Their attitude about the creek as a part of their neighborhood — they felt that it was their creek, because they helped take care of it.”
The fact that the lessons really do sink in is proof that this kind of education works. Cervantes remembers recently re-visiting the Downer School in Richmond, CA and overhearing one sixth-grade girl tell her friend not to litter because the trash would wash out to the ocean, where a sea lion would eat it. Cervantes stopped and asked the girls where they heard about that.
“We learned it in second grade, when these people came to our classroom,” one of the girls said. “Some group — I think they were called Kids for the Bay.”
— Jason Mark
Dear Supporters of KIDS for the BAY,
Here at KIDS for the BAY we have been deeply saddened by the oil spill that occurred last Wednesday, November 7th when a container ship hit the Bay Bridge and spilled 58,000 gallons of oil into the bay. All local beaches and fishing piers have been closed due to large amounts of toxic oil globules invading the shoreline. Hundreds of birds, fish and marine mammals are in danger because of this oil spill and the sight of the oil-coated birds has moved the KIDS for the BAY staff to take action.
This Wednesday, November 14th please join KIDS for the BAY staff as we spend the day volunteering to spot and drive distressed oil-covered birds to be rehabilitated. We will have two volunteers groups of KIDS for the BAY staff – one arriving at the Shorebird Park Nature Center at the Berkeley Marina at 9am and one arriving at noon. We invite you to come be part of the positive actions to help save the birds in danger because of the oil spill.
For more information on volunteering please contact:
Shorebird Park Nature Center
160 University Ave.
(510) 981-6720, 981-6721 or 981-6722
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network at (415) 701-2311
If you cannot come out and volunteer, the rescue groups are also in
need of the following
Flags (such as used for surveying, irrigation, etc.)
You can either drop off donated items to the Shorebird Park Nature
Center or you can drop them off to our office at 1771 Alcatraz Ave. in
Berkeley tomorrow and we can drop them off for you when we volunteer
Thank you for all of your support in helping to rehabilitate the bay.
Any questions, please call KIDS for the BAY at (510) 985-1602 or e-mail her at
Who Made Our 15 Year Celebration A Success!
On October 13th, KIDS for the BAY celebrated their 15 Years of inspiring the next generation of environmentalists at the Montclair Women’s Cultural Arts Club!
It was wonderful evening, celebrating with donors, funders, friends, family, past and current teachers and students!
Our Executive Director and Founder, Mandi Billinge, gave an inspiring speech looking back on the success of the past 15 years and gave the
audience a glimpse of our bright future with unveiling our new program, Urban Wilderness Classroom (link to click on for full speech).
KIDS for the BAY was proud to honor two classes for their outstanding action projects with our Environmental Excellence Award:
– Betty Buginas’ 4th/5th Grade Class at Castro Elementary
* Student Representative: Mike Jerez
– Stephanie Kroll’s 4th Grade Class at Rodeo Hills Elementary
* Student Representatives: Cora Concannon and Mika Ella Pomaran
KIDS for the BAY also proudly presented Leilani Alo with the Environmental Leadership Award for her years of incredible leadership in supporting KIDS for the BAY.
Afterward, everyone was delighted to be entertained by our very own Education Director Shefali Shah’s performance with Cacique y Kongo, an Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba Music and Dance Ensemble!
We then wrapped up the night by dancing to music by DJ Kendread!
Thank you again to all of our lovely supporters who helped make these
last 15 years possible!
Lastly, we sincerely appreciate our generous supporters who made this event possible:
Our Bronze Level Sponsor
and our gracious supporters
Lost Coast Brewery
Red Robin Catering
Cacique Y Kongo
Sara Bernard Photography
Thank you to everyone who made this event possible and to all of our
incredible supporters who have helped us reach 40,000 students and 1,700 teachers!
Coastal Living’s Educational Award
In Coastal Living’s March Edition they will be awarding KIDS for the BAY with a full page feature article on our Watershed Action Program!
Contra Costa Watershed Project of the Year
The Contra Costa Watershed Forum is recognizing KIDS for the BAY’s outstanding student led restoration action projects on creeks in Contra Costa county!
KIDS for the BAY fourth grade students from Castro Elementary School were honored with a visit from Mongolia’s Tsetsegee Munkhbayar last April. The students were cleaning up a trashed creek in the Richmond flatlands. Munkhbayar was in California to receive the prestigious, international, Goldman Environmental Prize. He was recognized for his work to save Mongolian rivers from the detrimental effects of gold mining, which devastate the environment on which local people depend for their livelihood.
People affected by water issues and environmental problems in Mongolia are largely living in rural areas. Richmond, California is highly urbanized. However, both environments are impacted by poverty, industry and water pollution and share this common ground.
Munkhbayar was interested in KIDS for the BAY’s programs because he believes that the involvement of youth is vital to the success of his movement in Mongolia.
“I am very excited to meet with you at KIDS for the BAY and to hear about all the work that you do with children. I believe that children are the most important component of our Onggi River Movement.”
— Tsetsegee Munkhbayar,
Prize Winner, 2007
KIDS for the BAY took Munkhbayar to visit one of our creek education and restoration sites, Baxter Creek in Richmond, where a group of KIDS for the BAY students were cleaning up the creek. Gayle McLaughlin, the Green Party Mayor of Richmond, also joined us there and took a keen interest in meeting Munkhbayar and KIDS for the BAY staff and students.
Munkhbayar addressed the students, saying, “The land is your mother: you must respect and honor her, play with her, enjoy her and help to take good care of her.”
Later, at the KIDS for the BAY office, Munkhbayar shared some of the highlights of his work. He also presented Mandi Billinge, Executive Director of KIDS for the BAY, with a beautiful picture of his Onggi River that he had brought all the way from Mongolia.
In this international information exchange, Mandi shared with Munkhbayar the three key components for the success of KIDS for the BAY programs:
1) inspire a love of learning through hands-on science activities in the classroom and in the outdoors
2) encourage education through action and engage students in environmental action projects that empower them as leaders
3) ensure a lasting impact by training the teachers and engaging the whole school community.
KIDS for the BAY was honored by the visit from Munkhbayar. We feel fortunate to have had this information exchange and to feel solidarity with an environmental activist from another part of the world!
Are our children suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder? This is a condition defined by Richard Louv in his recent best selling book Last Child In The Woods. Louv has identified something that many parents and educators have been feeling, but couldn’t quite name; the increasing alienation between children and nature.
A sedentary lifestyle, too much time indoors and a lack of connection with nature have been linked with obesity, attention deficit disorder and depression. Being in nature provides the opportunity for exploration and wonder, for creative play and for physical exercise, that is so necessary for healthy child development.
A study completed by the California Department of Education in 2005 found that students who participated in environmental education programs in the outdoors raised their science test scores by 27%. However, fewer than 15% of California students are currently participating in outdoor education programs.
KIDS for the BAY staff and teachers participating in our programs certainly agree that students are more engaged in learning when they are outside in nature. This is when children become alive and are excited to learn. Students are fascinated to find a crab hiding under a rock, figure out why it is sheltering there and discover the adaptations that enable the crab to survive in an intertidal habitat.
Children feel empowered when they survey their local creek, decide if it is healthy or unhealthy and make an action plan with their classmates to restore it. This type of real life learning turns students on to science. It also provides them with the opportunity to make a significant difference to their environment.
This school year, KIDS for the BAY will take more than 4,000 school children into the outdoors for a hands-on learning experience and a real-life connection with nature. We are proud to be a part of the national No Child Left INSIDE movement!
KIDS for the BAY is pleased to announce that teachers who participate in our Watershed Action and Four Rs Action Programs can now receive four to eight units of academic credit from Cal State East Bay.
“The credit will help make teachers eligible for pay increases,” explained
KIDS for the BAY Education Director Sheela Shankar. “This is great because we would like to see teachers rewarded when they make the effort to include quality environmental science lessons in their curricula. We also believe the credit program will help other teachers and principals see the value of using the local environment as a highly effective learning resource.”
Twenty teachers have chosen to enroll in the credit program this school year. It provides four units of credit for teachers who enroll while KIDS for the BAY is still actively working in their classes. These teachers meet regularly with KIDS for the BAY staff and complete reports on their experiences and their students’ experiences with the Watershed and Four Rs programs.
Teachers can earn an additional four units if they enroll in the program in
the year after KIDS for the BAY has worked in their classrooms. For these
teachers, the program provides credit as they complete the work of integrating KIDS for the BAY’s Watershed and Four Rs programs into their yearlong curriculum.
“The credit program is helping me incorporate quality, hands-on learning
opportunities into my curriculum while at the same time helping me satisfy State requirements for on-going professional development,” explained Hillcrest Elementary School teacher Susan Weinberg.
Weinberg also noted that because all of the credit program’s training occurs in her own classroom and because the assignments all center on projects she is currently undertaking with her class, it is both convenient and tailored to her own classroom situation.
“KIDS for the BAY’s credit program has presented a great opportunity for me!” she exclaimed
KIDS for the BAY Board Member, Tricia Andres, will lead a private tour of Pixar Animation Studios for KIDS for the BAY guests.