Youth create mural to celebrate their local watershed

How can art deepen our learning and understanding from a science class and how can it inspire stewardship/connection for our local ecology?

I had the privilege this Spring to facilitate a multimedia mural that engaged an entire student body at a K – 3rd grade elementary school in Petaluma with this question. Further questions followed: Why create art? Why care for our environment and our local species? What are some names of local species? What is the relationship between a butterfly and steelhead trout and why does this matter? And what do these questions have to do with our school??

My hope for the school and students through the creation of this mural: To inspire and create beauty, stewardship and pride for one’s local ecology – the ecology of the elementary school, surrounding community neighborhood, and natural watershed landscape.

The students, teachers, and I explored these questions and answers while collaboratively dreaming up, designing, and creating a multimedia mural that would celebrate the local Petaluma watershed. Choosing this theme was easy, the students were luckily learning about steelhead and environmental stewardship in their classes. Collectively, we realized that the austere and boring 300 foot long chain link fence in front of the entrance of the school desperately needed color, beautification and a welcoming attitude. Materials and mural design came next – surplus factory fabric was collected for weaving strips of color to create the landscape background, donated wood was shaped and cut into steelhead trout, monarch butterflies, and trillium flowers, and paint generously donated by Friedman’s Home Improvement was used to paint these local species.

Weaving the connection between art and ecology

So back to the original question – how can art deepen our understanding and connection with science and the local ecology? Art allowed and demanded that the students engage their classroom and local knowledge of the watershed landscape on creative, physical, and intellectual levels. While weaving, they physically created and felt the motions of a flowing river and the peaks and valleys of the rolling Petaluma hills.

The students had freedom towards how to paint and represent the local species – ranging from very realistic to extraordinarily magically – learning color mixing techniques, observational skills, and pattern recognition. Throughout the project, they worked in pairs and small groups, learning how to successfully work as a team and collaboratively make choices. The students experienced an environmental art project – learning with just a few surplus resources what a team can do to transform a boring fence into beautiful color piece of art. Finally, they transferred classroom knowledge to the outdoors and had fun!

I am grateful that such an art creation can offer such multidimensional learning opportunities for the students and community. The excitement, joy, and intelligence of the students was so influential towards the success of this project. The result? Students finished the mural feeling pride and connection for their school and its beautification, their local watershed and its species, and inspired to further care their place of home.

Meet science teacher Jeff Sandler

Students at Creekside
Jeff Sandler’s class out on a SEED program with Save The Bay at Creekside Marsh in Marin.

Meet Jeff Sandler from Fairfax, a science teacher in Berkeley who brought his 7th grade class out to the shoreline to participate in Save The Bay’s SEED program.  SEED — Students Engaging in Ecological Design — engages middle and high school students in the full restoration cycle.

How did you get involved with Save The Bay?

Years ago, I took my high school classes out on the Bay with the Canoes in Sloughs program.  For the last three years, my middle school classes have been participating in the SEED program – where we help restore wetlands around the Bay.  A great service learning opportunity!

Do you have a favorite site or experience?

I guess my favorite site is the Native Plant Nursery at the MLK Shoreline. Having the students’ work there – doing everything from re-potting seedlings to cleaning out old planting tubes and flats – gives them a great sense of accomplishment as they can literally do 100’s of these in a few hours.  The students also get to “close the loop” on the whole restoration cycle. Working there shows us where the small plants in the tubes that we use for wetland restoration come from!

What other activities or hobbies do you enjoy?

Fishing, mountain biking, trail running, cooking

What is your first/fondest memory of San Francisco Bay?

Bringing my own children to the shore of the Bay to fish.  Now that they are grown up, they still enjoy fishing and I’d like to think that their great patience and appreciation of the natural world is the result of all of those hours spent on the Bay.

To learn more about our SEED program and see our resources for teachers on our website.

Thanks to Jeff and all the students who came out to learn about the complete cycle of tidal marsh restoration, from seeds to ecosystems!


Connecting with Environmental Education

Our restoration education programs teach students to observe connections in the natural world.

As an environmental educator with Save The Bay, I strive to provide a fun filled day at one of the bay’s salt marshes while enriching science curriculum in the classroom. By showing students these intricate and diverse ecosystems, we encourage students to make their own connections between observations they make in the field and lessons they learn in the classroom.

Earlier this summer I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the CalAlive! professional development course in Fish Camp, California. This two weekend course was a unique and educational experience in which I learned ways to incorporate Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into Save The Bay’s environmental education programs. It turns out that our outdoor educational programs are an excellent accompaniment to these new standards and can be a tool for teachers to bridge the gap between the classroom activities and the real world.

Incorporating New Standards for Science

Over two weekend sessions, we learned in detail about how the Next Generation Science Standards can be implemented to create an educational experience that is meaningful and lasting. I was amazed at how much this education style differs from my own growing up. The basics were the same, but the way teachers are facilitating the learning process is very different.  Gone are the days in which students were lectured to and expected to retain knowledge. Instead, through various activities and teaching styles, students are encouraged to ask questions, gather information, and connect the concepts together.

I have taken home many ideas and activities that will be a great asset to our habitat restoration team.  By implementing the Question Formulation Technique, I believe we will provide an educational experience that connects classroom concepts to real world scientific principles. I am proud to realize that Save The Bay’s educational programs are already aligned with the core concepts of the NGSS. The outdoor learning space is a perfect place to make observations, formulate ideas and questions, and observe connections in the natural world, and I am excited to implement my experience in the coming school year!

Learn more about Save The Bay’s education programs.


Guest Post | Fremont boy with a mission to save our planet!

Pavan receives John Muir Association’s, “Youth Environmental Education Conservation Award”.
Pavan receives John Muir Association’s, “Youth Environmental Education Conservation Award”. Pictured (left to right): JoAnne Dunec (President, John Muir Association), Pavan Raj Gowda, Tom Leatherman (General Superintendent, Contra Costa County), and George Miller (Congressman)

Pavan Raj Gowda was recently honored with the President’s Environmental Youth award for his environmental stewardship work engaging children with environmental issues. 

Caring for the environment has always been part of who I am. At age 8, I expressed my thoughts openly about how a community needs to come together to care for the environment through a story called, “Two Lakes”, which was later included in my first published children story book, Two Tales from a Kid.

With my parents’ encouragement and support, I pursued my passion for caring for our planet by starting my own website, and published my articles, stories, tips, and ideas. In order to help me take action on my ideas, my parents registered Green Kids Now, Inc., as a 501c(3) non-profit organization. My organization has now completed three years, and in this time frame we have been working hard in many ways to take action.

Moving into our fourth year, my organization will also be focusing on science and innovation. It is very important for everyone to understand that innovation and environmental sustainability should not be seen as two separate things. Most of the issues we are seeing today with us not knowing how to use our raw materials and how to dispose of an item properly — like plastics — is because when people created products they did not consider these things.

But now we know from our previous mistakes and from the issues we are currently facing today, that the right way is for us to think about environmental sustainability from the beginning of creating any product or solution. That’s why my organization will be focusing on showing kids how to responsibly innovate. It is time for us to rethink everything around us today that was created by our past generations. We have a lot of rethinking and redesigning work to do.

Everything we do on land has a direct impact on the oceans too. From ocean warming, toxic chemicals mixing in the waters, our waste floating away and reaching even the most remote parts of oceans, are some examples of how our actions have caused negative consequences. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am able to appreciate the majestic nature of the sea, and love learning about marine life. I can also see first-hand how our actions are negatively impacting ocean processes and ecosystems, which not only impact the marine web of life, but also impact the global balance of life on the land.

The first step in involving people to take action is to first raise their awareness on the environmental issues. People have to come forward by themselves to take action, only then it would be more effective. For that, providing all the data and sharing of information is very important. Through my second published children science fiction, Geckoboy –The Battle of Fracking, I have introduced Biomimicry, as the new method of Innovation, and also showed the side effects of fracking, a method used by oil companies to extract natural gas and oil from the underground.

Let’s all take effort to continue to learn, and do our part in protecting our planet!

— Pavan Raj Gowda

About the Author:
Pavan Raj Gowda, 13 years old, from Fremont, CA, is a passionate environmentalist, published author, and founder of non-profit charity organization, Green Kids Now, Inc. He is also the founder of Green Kids Conference.