Reducing Plastic Waste at School

2019, Sacramento, California, USA

Rachel Freidberg and Barcelona Boyd, students of George Washington Carver High School, knew they wanted to focus on reducing single-use plastic waste for their Caring for Our Watersheds project. Besides the ubiquitous plastic water bottles, another source of plastic waste was coming from the school cafeteria: the spork packet. When looking closer at spork packet use, they found that many of students that took a spork packet did so only because they needed the napkin inside! Thus, there was plastic waste created without it even being used! They knew there was a better way.

Rachel and Barcelona wanted to replace the plastic utensils with reusable silverware and make separate napkins available to students. A main challenge to their proposed project was the fact that the school did not have a dishwasher to sanitize the silverware. However, they did not let this stop them! They developed a pilot project, using Dept. of Health standards and guidelines and rotating student volunteers to wash and sanitize the silverware generated at lunchtime at their relatively small school. Rachel and Barcelona’s well-planned project and their persistence in making a difference even within the limits of school’s infrastructure and equipment helped them take fifth in the Caring for Our Watersheds Finals.

Improving Recycling at School

2019, Sacramento, California, USArecycling

Suliana Tagitau, Emily Valtierra, and Tylique Watkins wanted to improve recycling at their school. They recognized that while there were bins in some classrooms, they were not universally recognized as recycling bins and hardly used. They also noticed that there were no bins where they were needed most, like in the courtyard area where most students ate lunch.

old bins in some classrooms

old bins in some classrooms

These George Washington Carver High School students submitted a proposal to buy larger classic blue bins for the lunch area, which they would decorate to attract attention and promote use. They would then use the extra paint to refurbish some of the old bins in the classrooms, to make them easily recognizable. Finally, classic blue bins would be purchased for classrooms without any existing bins.

The group also plans to attach a small laminated sheet to each bin reminding students and teachers what can and can’t be recycled.  Caring for Our Watersheds funds helped purchase the bins and paint for the project.

Pollinator Garden

2019, Sacramento, California, USA

When Anahi Orozco, Giselle Pantoja, and Ryan Mengell, students at George Washington Carver High School, starting researching topics for their Caring for Our Watersheds project, they learned a lot about the importance of pollinators in agriculture and that their numbers have been rapidly decreasing. Learning about issues like Colony Collapse Disorder (in honeybees) as well as habitat loss inspired them to help support bee populations, including many species of native bees that can also serve as successful pollinators.

They planted a pollinator garden on campus with several different species that would provide nectar sources throughout the year and installed a bee nesting box that would provide nest sites for different sizes and species of many California native bees.

Establishing this garden will also benefit the pollination in the school’s nearby garden, and serve as a educational component of garden class. Caring for Our Watersheds funding helped purchase plants, soil, and the nest box for their “Bee Friendly” garden.


garden student action

2019, Sacramento, California, USA

For their Caring for Our Watersheds project, G.W. Carver High School students Jasmine Chicas and Lea Fehringer decided to focus on the issue of water quantity as drought cycles are a reality of California life. Specifically, they wanted to help raise awareness in elementary school students about the importance of water conservation.

Lea and Jasmine created an educational space at A. M. Winn elementary school that demonstrates efficient water use and also provides a fun, interactive area for students, They built a chicken coop with rain barrels set up to collect the runoff from the coop’s roof. They also planted a drought-tolerant native plant garden with a drip irrigation system that will prevent the loss of any water to evaporation or runoff.chicken coop

With their project, they fulfilled teacher visions for the space, and provided many examples of responsible water usage for the students to learn from for years to come. Caring for Our Watersheds funds helped buy lumber, rain barrels, irrigation supplies, and plants for the project.

Biochar – A Garden Demo Study

2019, Sacramento, California, USAbiochar student action

When George Washington Carver High School students Camille Chappell and Nathan Castro first learned about biochar, they became intrigued. Biochar is a soil amendment that can improve soil health, boost plant growth, and has the potential to sequester carbon in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years.

In an effort to learn more about and educate others about this charcoal-like substance and its potential environmental benefits, Camille and Nathan created a biochar demonstration garden and designed a study comparing plant growth of a plant grown in biochar amended soil and one in regular soil.  They took measurements at least twice a week and collected data on the amount of leaves and flowers present. They synthesized their data into a presentation that they gave to their class.chi

The presentation served as a catalyst for discussion and raised awareness about biochar and its potential to both improve plant growth and act as a carbon sink. This project gave Camille and Nathan an introductory experience with designing and conducting a scientific study as well as gave them and their classmates a chance to take a closer look at this interesting substance that is getting more attention in the fields agriculture and climate change science.

Environmental Field Trip to SMUD

SMUD Field Trip Group2019, Sacramento, California, USA

Claudia Negrete, a student at the MET Sacramento, also interns at the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD), where she has been learning about the organization’s various energy conservation efforts and renewable energy incentives.

Claudia developed a way to share her own transformative experience with her classmates at school, and wrote a project proposal for a field trip for her class to visit SMUD headquarters to introduce them to SMUD’S sustainability initiatives.

SMUD Field Trip Activity

The agenda included energy- saving tips/ techniques/ products for the home, a hands-on STEM solar activity, Atrium lecture, a talk on LEED building certification etc. Caring for Our Watersheds funding helped make this fun, educational trip a reality for the students.

Removing the Stains that Microplastics Create

Sarah student photo2019, Selkirk, Manitoba, Canada

Sarah Cadotte, a student from Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary School, wanted to tackle the issue of microplastics in our watershed that come from fibres that drain out of our washing machines when we clean our clothes. She found a product that helps filter out these tiny pieces of fibre by attaching to washing machine drainage hoses. She obtained permission to have three of them installed within her school division. The filters can be emptied into the trash where the plastic pieces can be properly disposed of, rather than making their way into our water systems.

Filtrol Filter Student ImplementationFiltrol Filter Student Implementation

“If I can inspire my community to take action, even in something as small as installing a filter, then maybe there’s a greater hope that eventually, more people can become more economically aware of what’s going on in our waters and how even the smallest things can make great impacts.”

Filtrol Filter Logo

Pilot Mound Rain Gardens

2019, Pilot Mound, Manitoba, Canada

Colin Hildebrand, Joryn Buchanan, Donovan Kimball, and Riley Kimball are all students at Pilot Mound Collegiate in Pilot Mound, MB. When they were posed with the question of what they could do to improve their watershed, their thoughts took them outside to their schoolyard.

“Our problem lies in the excess water that our school ground produces and contends with… So how do we help manage excess water and potential pollutants?”

In speaking with the school’s custodian, they were able to see where drainage water flowed, accumulated, and moved across the school property. They realized that this runoff water could be picking up contaminants and sending them into local waterways and could also be contributing to flooding issues in their area. They approached their local conservation district (CD), the Pembina Valley CD, to discuss ways to mitigate these issues. Together, they came up with the idea of rain gardens along the natural swale running through the school yard to filter runoff, increase water infiltration, and reduce pollutants entering nearby waterways.

“We [will] create three rain gardens [along the existing swale]… The rain gardens will slow the water using berms, and the native plants will create more infiltration into the soil due to their large root systems.”