Cleveland Elementary School Environmentalists Help Restore Lake Merritt

Written by Corey Chan

Lake Merritt is a short walk from Cleveland Elementary School, and some lucky fourth graders had the special opportunity to help restore their local watershed habitat in a special lake-side planting project. 

Students in Ms.Caswell and Mr. Luke’s classes, participating in the KIDS for the BAY Watershed Rangers Program, have been learning all about their local watershed in hands-on activities including a watershed scavenger hunt, a San Francisco Bay satellite map study, mini watershed and bay model experiments, and a neighborhood trash cleanup project. 

To set up the Lake Merritt Environmental Action Project, KIDS for the BAY Program Manager, Yvette Diaz Samayoa, and Education Manager, Corey Chan, worked in partnership with the Rotary Nature Center (RNC), a nonprofit based at Lake Merritt that studies, protects, and educates the public about the health and wildlife of the lake. The Cleveland students learned about and helped to restore areas within the wildlife sanctuary – the first of its kind in Alameda County! Katie Noonan and other RNC volunteers helped to provide this wonderful opportunity for our young scientists to participate in active citizen science by helping with a restoration planting project and contributing to the daily water quality testing records for Lake Merritt.

Students began connecting with the environment at three stations: planting/restoration, nature journaling, and a plant observation walk. With Serafina and Allie, RNC student volunteers, the Cleveland environmentalists investigated and learned about the plants they planted, studied their anatomy, and discovered how they will look in the future as they grow into mature plants. Looking at the coyote bush Evan noticed, “The flowers have soft hairs and look like bleached hair tips!” While nature journaling with Janai, another RNC volunteer, Dara closely observed her beach strawberry plant and drew its anatomy. “Here is the plant I just planted!” she shared excitedly. 

While carefully walking through the tidal marsh area along the shoreline, Katie asked a group of students what they noticed about the soil. Faud replied, “The soil looks wet and damp, especially where it is darker.” Katie explained that the darkness also means the soil is low in oxygen and she led a discussion with the students about the special adaptations needed by these marsh plants to survive. Our young environmentalists were very proud of their efforts to plant special plants beside the lake and help to enhance this habitat. “We planted beach strawberry plants, and I have strawberries for lunch today!” shared Camden. 

“This is very cool! Our students will be able to come back here over time, with their families, look for their plant name flag and say that they planted that plant there!” 

Luke Rosenberger, Fourth Grade Teacher, Cleveland Elementary School, Oakland

To contribute to the Lake Merritt daily water quality testing records, students learned to use a variety of scientific tools to determine the temperature, pH, and turbidity of the water. They also recorded the color of the lake water. Holding up a sheet to determine the current water color, Ollie looked closely and determined, “The water color today is basque green. I bet it hasn’t been blue in a long time.” Students added this recording to the daily records board. Next they learned how to take water temperature measurements near the surface, as well as deeper in the water. After recording the temperatures, students collected plankton to help assess the current variety of life in the lake. This was really important to many students who had witnessed the massive fish kill event that occurred near the start of the school year due to an algal bloom. 

Just before they had to begin their walk back to school, students started pointing in excitement as they noticed Hank, the famous white pelican that lives year-round at Lake Merritt, swimming near the shoreline to the woman who was there to feed her. Katie explained that Hank has lived at Lake Merritt for twenty years after she was injured by a powerline. “Oh no! That is so sad!” exclaimed Ollie. The students were happy to learn that when Hank does not have other white pelicans to feed with, human volunteers with the Oakland Zoo help to make sure Hank gets fed. Our KIDS for the BAY environmentalists promised, “We will make sure to come back and visit Hank, and see how our plants are doing!”

KIDS for the BAY