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Believe it or not, high school kids DO care about our environment!

With many students heading back to school this week and next, today’s post comes from former ILACSD Environmental Educator Alex Mullen-Ley who shares her thoughts on our High School Watershed Education program and what it’s like working with high schoolers!

Let’s be honest: high school kids have a bad reputation. When I tell people that I teach high school students about water pollution prevention, they often say something like, “I could never do that!” It’s easy to stereotype high school students as self-centered and unmotivated. In reality, the vast majority of these kids are open-minded, eager to learn, and willing to help out in their communities.

Local high school students at a recent cleanup

I Love A Clean San Diego’s high school education presentation focuses on the importance of clean water, and is designed to increase students’ knowledge of local watersheds and promote behaviors that prevent marine pollution from urban runoff.  We identify important concepts such as the water cycle, food webs, and biomagnification and relate them to real life issues. We also review the latest information about the pacific garbage patch and help students identify everyday actions they can take to keep their local watershed healthy.

In 2011, ILACSD educated over 9100 students at 36 high schools around San Diego County through this program. It can be tedious talking about the same thing for five or six class periods, but the uniqueness of the students makes each day different. Nearly all of the 9th through 12th graders that I have talked to are genuinely interested in protecting the natural environment.

More than beach cleanups, students can get community service hours doing a variety of projects

Many high schools in San Diego County now actually require community service hours to graduate. So as the educators explain how trash ends up making its way into the ocean, we offer students the chance help at one of our upcoming cleanups.  It’s a win-win situation; ILACSD has more volunteers to clean up the canyons and beaches and the students earn community service hours.

Students learn that small actions like recycling can have a big impact

The watershed education program isn’t the only way that ILACSD is trying to reach out to high school kids. We recently partnered with the City of San Diego’s Think Blue campaign to create a pilot project for high school students to become more active in preventing stormwater pollution. The program gives the students resources to design a project to increase awareness of the impacts from urban runoff on local waterways. At the end of the year we will have a celebration for participating school groups where they can show off their projects and meet other like-minded teens.

When I first realized that I was going to be teaching high school kids, I was nervous about it. I thought that they might be uninterested in the material or might even have a lack of respect for me. I was wrong to prejudge them. The students I’ve talked to as the Environmental Educator are smart, motivated, and make me feel optimistic about the future of San Diego.

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