2021 California Science Education Conference

Distinguished Contribution Award: Yuba Water Agency

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Yuba Water Agency

Tell us about the Yuba Watershed Curriculum Project you have recently launched as an organization.
Our curriculum project is truly a grassroots program to get Yuba County students learning about our local watershed, its challenges and the bounty that it brings to our region, all through NGSS lessons that were developed by local teachers.

We hired 45 teachers last year and taught them how to develop NGSS compliant curriculum, taught them about the watershed and then set them free in grade-level teams to be creative and develop lessons they thought their students would love, based on the watershed. We now have lessons in everything from “What is a watershed?” to hydropower generation, flood risk, atmospheric river science and so much more. Our teachers developed more than 175 lessons in 14 units of study. The challenge now is testing it out in the classrooms, so we’re hiring more teachers this year, training them and having them pilot the lessons in their classrooms. They will then make whatever changes are necessary to make it the best it can be, as easy to implement as possible. The goal is that at the end of the school year, we’ll be able to share it with all of our school districts and have them adopt it and encourage broad use.

What do you think/hope the long term benefits of this project will be in your region?
We hope – first and foremost – that it will enhance the education system in our community, spark more of an interest in science with our students, and that we can grow our future workforce right in our small town. We also hope that by learning about these concepts in their own backyard, the students will grow up to appreciate the natural resources we are so blessed to have in our community and help protect our river and the entire watershed.

We are also in the master planning process for a new Watershed Experience Center, a facility on the Yuba River, where students can come for hands-on, experiential learning as a follow-on or supplement to what they learn in the classroom and really help lock in their passion for our watershed.

What impacts do you think this project will have beyond your region?
It would be wonderful if other people found our curriculum worth adopting. But I really hope that other organizations will take the time to help their local school districts develop curriculum that will raise generations of students who love science and care about the natural resources we so often take for granted.

How have the recent drought in California and the record-setting fires from the past few years impacted the way you engage with science educators and the local community about water conservation?
Over the last couple of years, we have launched a huge Forest Health and Watershed Resilience program, spending millions on preventing the devastating megafires that seem to be burning all around us. We have videos and can provide speakers to classes about our major efforts in that area.

We provide similar resources for any teachers that are interested with the topic of water conservation. We have recently launched a huge effort, in partnership with all water districts in Yuba County, to ensure we’re all getting the same information out to the public about the need to conserve.

We also granted $86,000 to help fund an effort to install water bottle filling stations in all of our schools in Yuba County, and will give each student a water bottle and a flyer that talks about how valuable the water we have is and provides tips on how to use less of it and protect it for the long-haul.

What significance does this award hold for your organization?
This is so incredibly rewarding. We have board members and staff that are just overwhelmingly passionate about this project, and what it means for our schools and our community. To be recognized for these efforts -- which are completely new to us and not at all part of our primary mission area, but something we are so committed to doing well -- it is so reassuring that we are on the right path and that science educators think what we’re doing is worthwhile.

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