Student Scientists and Biologists Join Forces to Improve the Watershed

After months of dedicated planning, student scientists and biologists glimpse the intricate and complicated relationship between a special ecosystem and the humans taking care of it and take action together to keep it healthy

By Gaby Antonova, Development and Communications Manager

“Look at those cows!” exclaimed the excited fifth graders as they streamed out of two large school busses onto a green hillside, the grazing ground for a herd of Black Angus cows. The Field Trip site at Sheep Camp Creek is part of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir System watershed which provides the City of Hayward with approximately 85 percent of its drinking water.

Thanks to two years of dedicated planning and a partnership between KIDS for the BAY, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), AECOM and Avila and Associates, Glassbrook Elementary School fifth graders from Hayward participated in a unique Environmental Action Project which focused on “Jobs in our Watershed.” This project gave them special access to beautiful oak woodland and grassland habitat on private SFPUC watershed lands.

Professional scientists and other experts were ready to take action with the Student Scientists at four special stations: birding, planting, ranching and biology. Together, these four important areas paint a complete picture of the history and health of the Sheep Camp Creek watershed. This allowed students to get a glimpse of the intricate and complicated relationship between the ecosystem and the humans taking care of it.

“Were there trees here before or are we just now planting them on this land for the first time?” asked a fifth grader named Sa’Rye at the Planting Station, with a furrowed brow, as she planted an acorn and scanned the oak-covered hillside. An Avila and Associates Botanist named Leanna Feely guided students, like Sa’Rye, in understanding that through planting acorns near the creek, they could grow new valley oaks to stabilize the soil.

“I loved the ranching station because I think ranching is great for the watershed,” shared Jake after learning from a rancher named Clayton Koopmann at the Ranching Station whose family has been ranching this land for over 100 years. Students were amazed as Clayton listed all the things that cows do for the watershed: provide fertilizer, assist with fire control and improve habitat for tiger salamanders by “mowing” the grass.

“I saw an invasive bull frog and a red-legged frog. I learned that red-legged frogs are native,” reflected Giancarlo after learning about the delicate balance between native and non-native organisms at the Biology Station.

Groups of students could be seen on the hillside excitedly pointing at raptors and turkey vultures at the Birding Station. Kristin Tremain, an AECOM Scientist, taught students how to use binoculars and a spotting scope to observe a red-tailed hawk nest! Dulce shared, “My favorite thing was seeing how the turkey vultures soar in the sky.”

Erika Isomura, a fifth grade teacher shared, “My students live and go to school in a neighborhood that doesn’t have the best access to nature. The Sheep Camp Creek site was really an amazing location for them to visit,” Her partner teacher, Martha Pena, reflected, “This Environmental Action Project was incredible because it brought us so close to nature.  My students looked at their surroundings with inquisitive eyes. They have more respect for nature, all creatures (big or small) and they have a better understanding of how even the tiniest animal can contribute to our environment in a positive way. They were yearning for this type of experience. After participating in the Watershed Action Program, they don’t take anything for granted anymore; they stop and take a second look.”

The Watershed Action Program provides students with unique opportunities to explore and improve special watershed habitats. In this case, it even brought together a larger community to achieve this important goal. Avila and Associates Wildlife Biologist Sarah Flaherty reflected, “Programs like this provide unique and lasting educational experiences and an appreciation for all that a healthy watershed provides.”