Local School Communities Get Outdoors at Urban Waters Sites

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a 13 agency initiative, aims to stimulate local economies, create jobs, improve quality of life, and protect health by revitalizing urban waterways and the communities around them, focusing on under-served urban communities. At Partnership sites across the country, federal, state and local governments, non-profits and schools are working together to safeguard natural resources for generations to come and ensure that students receive effective environmental education.

Adminstrator Jackson with students at Scott School rain garden

Adminstrator Jackson with students at Scott School rain garden.

In the Los Angeles, Calif., Paddling and Safe Routes

The National Park Service, the LA Conservation Corps, and partners created the “Paddle the LA River” program. Over 1,000 people, including urban school children, have now kayaked or canoed the river. The National Park Service is also developing “Safe Routes to the River” that will connect Los Angeles Unified School District school sites to river gateways with enhanced trails.

In New Orleans, La., a New-Old Watershed Education Center

The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has raised over $1 million in private funds to rebuild a lighthouse as an educational center for water quality and water resources.  The new-old Canal Lighthouse Education Center will serve adults and children and feature interactive displays on the history of the lighthouse and the canal, the ecology of Lake Pontchartrain, and the impacts of Hurricane Katrina.

On the Anacostia River, Washington, DC, Youth Paddling and Greener Schools

As part of the Youth Paddling Program sponsored by the National Park Service, 1,000 kids from DC area schools enjoyed learning about recreational opportunities and participating in watershed education while paddling the Anacostia. Meanwhile, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation implemented low environmental impact development practices at seven schools, reducing pollution to the river and educating students about the importance of managing storm water. As part of the project, DC Greenworks, a local non-profit, engaged 150 volunteers to design and install green roofs, rain gardens, rain barrels, permeable pavement, bio-retention plantings and other storm water management technologies at schools. The lessons developed during the collaborative design process will be introduced into the schools’ curricula with the help of local non-profits.

In Denver, Colo., Youth River Rangers and a Children’s Forrest Corridor

Youth River Rangers, a green jobs pilot, gives urban youth the opportunity to sample, analyze, and map water quality, complete green jobs internships, and apply for environmental education certification.  The Greenway Foundation of Denver will oversee the scaling up of this youth training program.  In addition, with funding from the U.S. Forest Service and the EPA, Johnson-Habitat Park will soon house a children’s forest corridor for kids to explore along the South Platte River and a virtual online “base camp” to help connect youth to these outdoor recreation opportunities.

In Baltimore, Md., Career Exploration and on-the-Job Training

The U.S. Forest Service helped Maryland fund green jobs for watershed restoration, including urban youth positions with paid arboriculture training and work experience which allowed them to improve the heavily urbanized Gwynns Falls Trail.

In Portland Ore., Local School Develops a Rain Garden 

Adminstrator Jackson at Scott School

Adminstrator Jackson at Scott School

The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership worked with the Harvey Scott School to design and build a rain garden on a school site that had been a safety hazard.  The project involved classroom visits, field trips to other sustainable stormwater sites and a community design charrette.  In addition, partners provided classroom environmental education lessons on soils, watershed, and native plants.  Students cleared the project site of weeds, dug the infiltration swale, and planted the swale and an outdoor classroom with 1,210 plants.

Across the nation, Urban Waters partners are connecting environmental practitioners to schools who help students — especially the neediest – connect to and learn about their urban waters and spark their interest in environmental careers.  These partnerships are ramping up green infrastructure efforts, engaging children in hands-on projects and the science, math, engineering and technology behind them, and providing jobs and skills to teenagers in the promising green sector.  Together, partners are revitalizing local economies, preserving precious local resources and protecting the health of the neediest.

Now that’s the kind of community partnership green schools are made of!

Read about the Urban Waters Federal Partnership.  Find resources, including partners and grants, and informational webinars to make your school community safer, healthier and more sustainable.