SBC LTER launches Watershed Education program with partners

Network News Fall 2006, Vol. 19 No. 2

The Watershed Education program at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) exemplifies the power of partnerships to connect current science research with hands-on learning experiences for K-12 students. The program is a partnership between three UCSB programs: the Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research (SBC LTER) project, the Marine Science Institute, and the Sedgwick Natural Reserve, with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC). The program includes a student and family visit to UCSB, trips to watershed and restoration sites, and a weeklong residential program that includes ecology lessons based on SBC LTER research. Undergraduate and graduate students serve as docents and provide extensive mentoring.

The SBC LTER and the Marine Science Institute, both at UCSB, support cutting-edge coastal and marine science research and provide undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to communicate their knowledge about the marine environment in several informal education settings. These docents receive training and coursework in natural history, teaching and learning, and attend lectures by marine science researchers. Docents provide mentoring and educational programming for students on-site at the downtown LACC facility during the school year and during the 1-week summer residence on the UCSB campus. The SBC LTER provides housing and supports field trips throughout the program.

The Sedgwick Natural Reserve is part of UCSB's Natural Reserve System and encompasses 5,883 acres spanning an elevation range of 1,300 feet in the Santa Ynez Valley. The Reserve is noted for both its large size and environmental heterogeneity. Diverse vegetation types include oak forests, woodland, and savannahs; chaparral, scrub, grassland, riparian forest, and agricultural lands. The site contains major portions of two watersheds and wetland habitats, notably vernal pools. Sedgwick provides housing and docents during the student's 3-day field trip.

The LACC offers at-risk young adults and school-aged youth opportunities to succeed by providing them with education and work skills training, with an emphasis on environmental and service projects that benefit the community. LACC's "Clean & Green" program includes participants aged 13 to 17 years who participate in urban beautification projects throughout LA County. Emphasis is placed on keeping team members on track in school and in their personal lives. LACC provides staff counselors, transportation, and administrative support for all aspects of the Watershed Education program.

The Watershed Education program is a year-round program designed for LACC's "Clean & Green" students with the goal of providing basic understanding of watersheds and how humans influence them. The program includes several components. Family Visit: Each winter LACC students and their parents are invited to UCSB to tour The REEF aquarium and attend lectures about maritime history and marine science research. Parents attend a presentation and Q & A session about attending college, the undergraduate experience, and are given a campus tour. Watershed exploration: The following spring, students go on a 3-day field trip to the Sedgwick Natural Reserve. Docents provide educational programs that introduce students to watersheds from an interior valley perspective. Students hike through several habitats with diverse vegetation types and explore a natural creek and vernal pools. Students also interact with Sedgwick researchers and learn about on-going projects. UCSB Residential Program: Docents and staff travel to LACC to provide hands-on lessons in preparation for their immersive, week-long residential program, during which students are introduced to a number of watershed field sites where they learn about SBC LTER research. Students are mentored through a research project, which they eventually present in a public poster symposium. Follow-up: UCSB staff and docents conduct workshops, discussion groups, and informal education activities at the downtown LACC site throughout the academic year. These activities are aimed at maintaining a direct connection with students and their families and encourage continued academic achievement.

The Watershed Education curriculum, including the 6-part lesson plan and a DVD with our interactive watershed model, are available online at or by sending an email to