The first time Gerry Martinez, a 12th-grader at Apollo High School in East San Jose, came out to the Bay shoreline he was surprised by the number of insects and animals he saw. Before he got up close out on the marsh, he thought it was “so empty and dry, it didn’t look like anything lived there.”
It’s common for people to be surprised by the teeming life of the tidal marsh. Birds twitter and fly overhead; lizards skitter around; in the mud, tiny hermit crabs dart and dig. Yet, these signs of life are not visible from the Bay Area’s freeways, which is as close as many people ever get to the Bay.
Another student at Apollo, Magally Leanos, said she was surprised by the “piles and piles of trash” out on the marsh, adding that she “didn’t know the Bay was at risk. From a distance it looks so clean.”
Both Gerry and Magally are participants in Save The Bay’s restoration education programs for schools, which teach ecological stewardship and community leadership, using the Bay as a classroom and laboratory. Both students attend Apollo, which helps at-risk students get back on track. Their history teacher, Nate Bowen, says that the science education they get out on their marsh visit is valuable, but what’s even more valuable is that the students come away from the experience with “a sense that they’re contributing.”
Nate said that for urban students like Gerry and Magally, being out in nature is a new experience. Because the students have come out numerous times, they’ve had the opportunity to engage in different restoration activities including planting, weeding, and picking up trash. Nate says, “It’s neat to see the work we’ve done when we come back to the same spot”. When asked what would keep him coming back on his own, Gerry says it’s both the feeling that he’s “part of the community” and the “sense of pride” he gets from helping out.
The students have helped out in very significant ways. During one particular planting event, they worked with a group of other volunteers to plant 827 native plants; they’ve removed bags and bags of invasive weeds; and they’ve picked up trash. Lots of it.
This certainly restores the shoreline, and it also restores the students. Seeing the Bay up close has changed how the students see their environment and their place in it.
Gerry said that although he expected to find some trash, “I realized trash goes through sewers and it surprised me how much garbage ends up in the Bay.”
“Before I didn’t really think about the Bay,” said Magally. “I used to litter. Now when I see trash, I think about the Bay. I think about how it would look if we didn’t do creek cleanups anywhere. I was not aware before. Now I would like to go and help and teach other kids.”
Learn more about our restoration education programs for schools.