In recognition of teachers who incorporate environmentalism into their class curricula in Santa Cruz County, two bright environmentalists, Molly Attolico and Kristen Van Kley, proposed an Earth Day Class Project Challenge a few years ago.
Since its implementation in 2009, the has displayed the three winning projects each year. Museum visitors can experience the efforts students are making for the health of their local environment.
This year competitors will contribute projects promoting urban forestry and healthy aqua eco-systems.
Tamara Myers, an environmental science teacher at Natural Bridges High School, said her class dissected the bolus of the Albatross, a seabird with a 9-11-foot wingspan.
When the baby birds fledge, they regurgitate the bolus, which is filled with things they can’t digest. Myers class took a look at five boluses provided by Oikonos, a nonprofit focused on coastal ecosystem conservation.
Because the birds soar over the ocean and make homes in habitats away from people, they provide unique insight into human impact on nonhuman environments.
The boluses Myers class dissected consisted of more than 50 percent plastic.
Keeping plastics out of the marine environment, raising awareness about the dangers of plastic and how it is harming the environment are at the heart of their project.
“They’re making curtains of plastic items. You have to swim through a few layers of plastic curtains to get inside,” said Myers of their Earth Day display.
At , Stu Branoff and Barbara Novelli have teamed up to increase appreciation of aqua eco-systems. Their fifth-graders raised 30 steelhead trout eggs and recently released them into local waterways.
The project incorporated science, language arts and math and instilled responsibility, according to Branoff.
“They learned about habitat, cleanliness, storm drains flowing to the bay and the growth stages of the fish. When the fish came, the kids were stoked,” said Branoff.
Denise Blair's class at Monarch Community School decided to develop a project on urban forestry called "Trees Keep Us Grounded" for this year’s competition.
“What I’m really trying to get across to the kids is that they are the future and they need to learn how to speak up for themselves and make a change if a change needs to be made," she said. "Their voices really make a difference. If they write a letter, people respond. They are learning and really believing.”
In Blair’s class, the students led the effort, made the calls and designed their project, promoting the planting and protection of trees in urban environments. She was there to encourage and guide them.
One of their exhibits depicts two models of a watershed: one that is healthy and one that lacks essential vegetation, including trees. The contrast provides a strong picture of the importance of urban forestry.
"The kids are starting to really get it,” Blair said.
The efforts of teachers like Blair, Novelli, Branoff and Myers is noted and rewarded through the Earth Day Class Project Challenge.
"We knew that a lot of teachers were working hard to do environmental stuff with their classes," said Van Kley. "We wanted to incorporate a way to recognize them, reward them and encourage them to continue working with their classes on environmental stewardship."