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March 25, 2019 at 12:01 PM PDT

Robert Hill Lane Elementary Fifth- and Sixth-Graders Take Fourth Place in Cal Water H2o Challenge

Students' renovation of school garden and efforts to educate their peers on water conservation earns prize in fifth annual project competition.

COMMERCE, Calif. —Thirty students from Keri Wohlford's fifth- and sixth-grade class at Robert Hill Lane Elementary in Monterey Park, Calif., used water conservation practices to revitalize their school garden, while learning and teaching others about water-use efficiency, to take fourth place in the 2019 California Water Service (Cal Water) H2O Challenge. The students took home a $1,000 grant for their classroom and Cal Water prize pack for every student.

The Cal Water H2O Challenge (challenge.calwater.com) is a collaboration between Cal Water and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) that asks students to solve a local or global water issue. The annual competition is open to fourth- through sixth-grade students and teachers in schools served by Cal Water.

Wohlford's students started their project with the goal of helping fellow students understand the benefits of saving water. They decided to tend to the school garden, which was in need of repair. Guided by research questions, the students created a blueprint for the garden and consulted with the school facilities team for supplies. While constructing the new plot with reclaimed wood, they tested various forms of stabilization for the soil and tracked unused water in their classroom. This water was then recycled and used in their community garden. From there, the students met with TreePeople, a California-based, nonprofit environmental advocacy group, for advice on how to improve their garden with as little water as possible. With this advice and supplies, the students have been able to grow California poppies, lavender, and marigolds.

"The educational benefits of this challenge [have] made my students more aware of the wasting [of] water that is going on in and out of our classroom. They were made [aware of the] importance of water conservation," said Wohlford. The class hopes to continue working on the garden and that future Robert Hill Lane Elementary students will take interest in growing the garden as well. Wohlford, who plans to install new fixtures in the garden, said, "My students developed an ownership of their learning and the pride that they demonstrated in their finished project is why I teach."

"The dedication Ms. Wohlford's class gave to this project is a reminder of the great potential of our future leaders," said Ken Jenkins, Director of Drought Management and Conservation at Cal Water. "We are proud to recognize this inspiring classroom for its students' efforts in building a water conservation project that engages their peers and community in sustainable water management."

According to Christiane Maertens, NAAEE H2O Challenge Program Director, classrooms like this support NAAEE's National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education goals. "This project shows how teachers and students can take real-world problems and create real-world solutions by understanding their community, their environment, and taking action," said Maertens.

By integrating water conservation, educational programs, and school curriculum, NAAEE and Cal Water's partnership positively impacts California's environment. The partnership has brought STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Math) and NGSS (Next-Generation Science Standards) into the classroom to equip students with the skills they need to succeed.

About Cal Water

California Water Service serves about 2 million people through 484,900 service connections in California. The utility has provided water service in the state since 1926. Additional information may be obtained online at www.calwater.com.

About NAAEE

For four decades, the North American Association for Environmental Education has been dedicated to accelerating environmental literacy and civic engagement through the power of education. NAAEE supports a network of 20,000 educators and 56 regional affiliate organizations working in environmental education in more than 30 countries. For more information, visit www.naaee.org.