Students Designed a School Garden for Their Winning Entry
Fourth-grade students at Del Amo Elementary in Carson, Calif., along with teacher Fa'auliulitō H. Meni, took fourth place in the 2021 Cal Water H2O Challenge for their efforts to design, gain Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) approval for, and obtain funds to build a drought-resistant school garden. They took home a $1,000 grant for the classroom and a Cal Water prize pack for each student.
The Cal Water H2O Challenge is a collaboration between Cal Water, the California Association of Science Educators (CASE), and DoGoodery. The free, project-based competition invites fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade classrooms in Cal Water service areas to develop and implement solutions for local water issues. During the pandemic, Cal Water evolved its model to help bring students a project-based learning opportunity, bearing in mind the limitations of distance learning. For the first time, students were able to focus on designing a water solution, in order to make the challenge more equitable and accessible amid coronavirus restrictions.
For their project, "Del Amo School Garden," the students wanted to do something that would impact their community most directly, so they decided to research and design a drought-resistant school garden, according to the class submission. The students first created an action plan that included contacting local stakeholders and government officials to see what would be required in order to install the garden. They then measured the dimensions of the proposed site and went to the City of Carson's Xeriscape Garden at the local Community Center to learn more about drought-resistant plants and design ideas for their garden plan. Additionally, students watched a lesson about the drip irrigation system they use at City Hall to demonstrate how much water they could save in their school garden.
Since this year's competition was focused on design, the students plan to continue their pursuit of creating this garden, and are in the process of securing approval from LAUSD. They plan on using the Cal Water grant money earned, as well as asking for other donations from different organizations, to help fund the garden.
Meni described the challenge as having an incredible impact on the students' enthusiasm for learning about water-related issues in their community. "I was quite impressed with my students' comprehension of what the Cal Water H2O Challenge entailed. Their inquisitiveness about water issues from historical and current perspectives truly fueled our research, in-class and individually,” Meni said.
Meni also credits the challenge with helping her class grow as students and individuals, saying,
"[Being part of] the presentation team was an incredible experience, in which extremely shy students became class leaders who volunteered to make the phone calls to stakeholders or lead meetings and discussions. This personal growth developed during our project is another success that has had life-changing effects on students."
Despite the unprecedented challenges this year presented, by integrating water conservation, educational programs, and school curriculum, DoGoodery, CASE, and Cal Water's partnership transcended distance learning and provided a space to connect with students and bring STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Math) and NGSS (Next-Generation Science Standards) into the virtual classroom.
"Ms. Meni's fourth-grade students' determination to create a school garden is admirable and demonstrates the transformative benefits of the challenge," said Ken Jenkins, Cal Water's Director of Water Resource Sustainability. Regarding the impact of this year's competition as a whole, Jenkins said, "They also showed that our next generation's ability to discover and develop new solutions to water issues, even during difficult times, will help provide a better future for the communities we serve."
The California Association of Science Educators (CASE) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) member-based community that works to lead the promotion of high-quality, equitable science education through advocacy, collaboration, and communication. Recognizing that science has a profound influence on our lives, our local environments, and our world. CASE fosters a community focused on enhancing scientific and environmental literacy and agency for all. For more information, visit cascience.org.
DoGoodery is a social impact agency with storytelling at the heart of its mission. DoGoodery collaborates with partners through all phases of social impact strategy building and storytelling, delivering goodness to audiences and clients alike and amplifying stories of change that empower, elevate, and excite. For more information visit www.dothegoodery.com.