Water is the basis of life across the planet and we can all take action to conserve and protect water here and in other countries. That’s what middle school students at five Boston after-school programs learned this summer. The classes were taught by “e” inc., an environmental science education organization based in the Boston metro area. Students in Charlestown, Roxbury, Mattapan, South Boston and Hyde Park participated in the program.
“We’re trying to get the teens to be exposed to the importance of water in their daily lives,” said “e” inc. education coordinator Andrew Thai. “Then we connect that to the social aspect – the scarcity and value of clean water.”
One of the program’s goals was to make bottled water less attractive – that is, less “cool.” The students taste-tested water and were unable to tell the difference between tap water and bottled water. Since they had expected the bottled brands to taste better than water from a tap, many of them were surprised.
After carrying out a plastic bottle recycling project to raise money for a charity which builds wells in Africa, many students received stainless steel drinking bottles as a gift from the program. In local public schools, students use paper and plastic cups at classroom waterfountains (which are delivered monthly from a company). Now, these students will not need to create added waste by throwing cups away each day. Other students were impressed by the metal water bottles and wanted their own. Now, that is “cool.”
Global water scarcity was an important theme of the program. “We turn on the tap and water just flows, but other people don’t have that luxury,” Thai said. Kids experimented with water rationing and learned what it was like to have to carry water home from a well.
Urban design plays a powerful role in determining the health of rivers and streams. Watersheds can become damaged or depleted. Kids built simulated cities to discover how this works. Kids also learned where the water in their schools and neighborhoods comes from as they studied their local watersheds.
“Probably one of my favorite moments was the tree planting,” Thai said. First, students watched a short film, Planting Hope, about Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai and her reforestation project in Kenya. Then the teens planted saplings near each school after seeing how trees prevent erosion and stop soil from polluting brooks.
The program was funded by the BELL Foundation, which offers special summer programs of both educational and enrichment programs to improve the academic performance of middle school students.
“e” inc. plans to bring the water curriculum to its Kids Green their Schools program this fall. “e” inc. designs all of its own curricula. Its programs are structured so that the students gain science knowledge - with documented average increases in science test performance of up to 60 percent. “e” inc. programs are unique because they pair knowledge with action. All sessions involve students in a civic engagement curriculum which allows them to be environmentally responsible citizens making an actual set of differences in their schools and communities.
“e” inc. is an environment science learning and action center whose pairing of science education with community action leads to environmental change in urban communities. Its mission is to assure that ‘every child and teen in our Commonwealth is a science-literate conservation citizen committed to understanding and protecting the planet.’