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Wetland Stewards

Wetland Steward, right, explore aquatic invertebrates with younger students.

The Wetland Stewards Program is a hands-on, experiential wetland science after-school program with a mentoring component. The Program was expanded in 2012 from six to nine Pajaro Valley High School interns each academic year. The program has grown significantly for the 2016–17 school year. Now, enrolling 12 high school Wetland Stewards interns, we are able to serve four new schools year and are conducting dozens more field trips.

Throughout the school year, the Wetland Steward interns are trained in indoor and outdoor classrooms by the Watch’s education staff, by visiting scientists and experts, and through the Stewards’ own mentoring of younger students: The Stewards help lead visiting elementary and middle-school groups through outdoor inquiry-based activities. They develop leadership skills and serve as positive role models to the younger students as they explore the wonders of the wetlands right outside the Watch’s home, the Fitz WERC (Wetlands Educational Resource Center).

Click to read about the Program’s Goals and Objectives.

The Wetland Stewards Program is made possible by generous support from Foundation for Youth Investment, The John & Abby Sobrato Donor-Advised Fund, Cecil’s Fund, The Toole Fund, The Robert N. & Florence Slinger Fund, and Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

The Program uses our wetland stewards middle school outdoor curriculum guide, which is compatible with CA standards and is appropriate for the demographics of Watsonville youth. These activities include bird watching, water-quality testing, plant scavenger hunts, soil and compost discoveries, aquatic invertebrate observations, nature water coloring, and journaling. Program outline.

Throughout the school year the high school mentors help elementary school and now middle-school students become familiar with the Watsonville wetlands and participate in wetlands biodiversity monitoring. The middle-school students collect population data on aquatic invertebrates in the sloughs and develop a project that helps them understand how research on aquatic invertebrate populations can be used to assess wetland health. High school mentors and adult docents guide the process and keep students focused and engaged. High school mentors also receive additional training and enrichment opportunities like field trips and career talks every Tuesday.

New School Year Brings New Wetlands Stewards

Wetland Stewards Class of 2014–2015 on Recent Camping Trip with
Wetland Stewards Class of 2014–2015 on
Recent Camping Trip with WWW Staff and State Parks Interpreter John Deer.

We welcome nine new Wetland Stewards, this year’s class of high school interns, who will be helping with our after-school programs. During summer training in mid-August, the new Stewards listened to a variety of speakers and local experts. Veteran Wetlands Watch Board members Bob Culbertson and Jim Van Houten helped them understand the history of the Wetlands and the Wetlands Watch and, during a wetlands circumnavigation, explained why the wetlands are so imporant to the community. Cindy Scott, City of Watsonville Environmental Educator, led the stewards on a walk where they learned to identify birds and understand their behaviors. Summer training also covered such topics as plant-life and tracking wildlife, and included an introduction to teaching.

In one of the week’s highlights, four of last year’s Wetland Steward graduates, Emmelie, Celeste, Paul, and Alexis, returned to help their successors understand “inquiry-based teaching.” Last year’s Stewards also entertained the new Stewards’ questions about their past experiences with the program.

Wetland Stewards Alumni, Emmelie Avila, teaches our newest Stewards about inquiry at the DFW property
At the DFW property, Wetland Stewards alumna, Emmelie Avila, teaches new Stewards about inquiry

The training week culminated in a camping trip to Little Basin State Park (located near Big Basin). On arrival on Thursday evening, the Stewards pitched their tents, built a fire from scratch, and roasted sausages and s’mores. During a guided walk through the redwoods, local educator John Deer taught the Stewards about forest flora and fauna and showed them how to teach and keep an audience engaged on the trail.

The rest of August saw the Wetland Stewards learning about restoration from our staff, meeting our docents, learning how to properly manage a classroom and group setting, and how to use a kayak in our sloughs. Their training will continue through the year, including, starting in September, the leading of visiting elementary and middle-school groups in outdoor inquiry-based activities.  09/2014

Another Amazing Year

Celeste Espino-Martinez,
Ernesto Robles-Rocha, Alexis Rodriguez-Camacho, Emmelie Avila-Rodriguez
From left: Celeste Espino-Martinez,
Ernesto Robles-Rocha, Alexis Rodriguez-
Camacho, Emmelie Avila-Rodriguez
Current Hofmeister scholarship winner Celeste 
Espino-Martinez, center, with past winners — 
José Alanis (2012), and Marcela Uribe (2013)
Current Hofmeister scholarship winner Celeste
Espino-Martinez, center, with past winners —
José Alanis (2012), and Marcela Uribe (2013)

The school year has come to a close and the 2014 class of Wetland Stewards have just graduated. It was a fun time, filled with meaningful learning moments for both the stewards and the education staff. Apart from navigating the challenges of mentoring middle and elementary school students, this group of teen mentors also participated in a variety of extra-curricular and community events and experienced many speakers and enrichment opportunities from the Watsonville Wetlands Watch community and beyond. Some examples of the events the Stewards participated in include the Watch’s Backyard Habitat Festival and Native Plant Sale, the Migration Festival at Natural Bridges, the Strawberry Blast at the UCSC Farm, and World Wetlands Day and Earth Day at the high school. We also had speakers from the Puma Project based at UCSC, a team-building program led by educator Cara Sundell, birding with expert Nanci Adams, and the opportunity to create unique stepping stones for the garden under the guidance of artists Cathy Gamble and Linda Bjornsen.

Fabiel Morales, Jacob Moran, Alexis Rodriguez-Camacho and Paul Garcia working together to put up their tent.
From left: Fabiel Morales, Jacob Moran, Alexis Rodriguez-Camacho
and Paul Garcia working together to put up their tent.

The Watsonville Wetlands Watch hosted a graduation on June 6 to honor the hard work the stewards put in for the past year. At this event our interns demonstrated the skills and knowledge gained throughout the program. Games were played, native seed balls created (to propagate native seeds), guests learned about watershed connections, birds, snakes and a tour of the Wetland Stewards native plant garden was provided. Stewards were then honored by the Watsonville Wetlands Watch staff, the education docents and their families for the meaningful work they had done over the past year.

During the graduation, the Watsonville Wetlands Watch and Laura Hofmeister were proud to present the Hofmeister scholarship to Celeste Espino-Martinez. The Hofmeister Wetland Stewards Scholarship Fund was started by Laura in 2010 and has been presented to a graduating Wetland Stewards senior each year since then. Laura and her family have provided extraordinary support toward protecting, restoring and appreciating our wetlands. Laura Hofmeister and her family’s vision for the youth of Pajaro Valley include this generous endowment to fund this scholarship effort. Past Hofmeister scholarship awardees have gone on to study at UC Berkley and UC Santa Cruz, and one has even gone on to study in Antarctica. Our current awardee Celeste plans to earn a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies at CSUMB.

Adrienne Frisbee, Carmen Tan, Fabiel Morales, Santina Martinez, Emmelie Avila-Rodriguez, Cynthia Santillan, Celeste Espino-Martinez, Noëlle Antolin, Paul Garcia, Jacob Moran, Ernesto Robles, Alexis Rodriguez-Camacho.
2013/14 Class of Wetland Stewards. From left, front: Adrienne Frisbee,
Carmen Tan, Fabiel Morales, Santina Martinez, Emmelie Avila-Rodriguez,
Cynthia Santillan, Celeste Espino-Martinez. From right, back: Noëlle Antolin,
Paul Garcia, Jacob Moran, Ernesto Robles, Alexis Rodriguez-Camacho.

As a fitting end to the program, the Wetland Stewards and education staff went for a 2 day camping trip at Limekiln State Park in Big Sur. On the way we stopped at various state parks, exploring the sights they had to offer. We saw whales off the coast, deer, lots of birds and insects. The Stewards learned about proper camping etiquette, went for hikes in the redwoods and along the coast, relaxed by the beach and played games around the campfire. This quote from Paul sums up the experience of both the trip and the year “Here are some photos I took on my camping trip with my Wetland Steward family. Definitely an amazing year with them and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world.”

And though this was the last time the stewards were together as interns, once a Wetland Steward always a Wetland Steward! We also say goodbye to some of our seniors as they head to Brown University, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, Chico State, UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo. It has been another great year, we thank you all who have supported this program and look forward to seeing you all next year! 07/2014

Wetland Stewards go to Summer School

Students look at aquatic invertebrates with Wetland Stewards alumnus Cody Neal
Students look at aquatic invertebrates with
Wetland Stewards alumnus Cody Neal.

As described in the September 2013 Newsletter, because the Pajaro Valley Unified School District invited the Watsonville Wetlands Watch to adapt our successful Wetland Stewards after-school program to summer school, seven of our former Wetland Stewards were able to return to Watsonville to participate in the program. Under the supervision of our our environmental educators, the Stewards helped educate about 100 elementary school students.

For three hours each week, a class of excited, soon-to-be 5th graders went on field trips to the wetlands. Guided by our expert educators, Wetland Stewards alumni, and intrepid docents, the summer students were introduced to the wonders of the Watsonville Wetlands through fun, hands-on games and activities. In particular, the students participated in the restoration of Tarplant Hill and the trails along Ramsay Park. They also engaged in aquatic invertebrate exploration, birding, plant identification, and pressing and transplanting native plants from our greenhouse to take home. For many of the students, this was their first time outside in our wetlands, where they had the opportunity to create the important connections to nature that will help them grow into the next generation of stewards and advocates for the wetlands.

Class of 2012 Graduates

Wetland Stewards and WWW Staff posed by rocks on beach A reception was held at The Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center to celebrate the Wetland Stewards graduating class of 2012. At the reception family members, friends, docents, staff, and board members gathered to celebrate the hard work and achievements of the interns. Each Steward led an activity related to their wetland knowledge on such topics as aquatic invertebrates, cultural history, wildlife, or plants.

Following this celebration, staff took the Stewards on a camping trip to Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur. The weather was sunny and warm and the campsite location was ideal with wonderful hikes and the beach nearby. Highlights of the trip included a sunset hike, crossing the Big Sur River, swimming in the ocean, wildlife encounters, and cooking on an open fire.

We thank the Wetland Steward Class of 2012 for their hard work and dedication to educating others! (06/2012)

Wetland Stewards at Natural Bridges Class of 2012 Stewards Learn Interpretation, Do Field Research

During winter break the Wetland Stewards class of 2012 visited the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz to explore the marine ecosystems of the Monterey Bay. At the Seymour Center, they explored the aquarium, the education exhibits, and toured the marine mammal facilities to see the dolphins. At Natural Bridges, they explored the Monarch grove, the visitor center, and went tide pooling! They learned a lot about interpretation by observing other educators in action and they each researched and presented a topic they were interested in. (12/2011)

Wetland Steward with Adrienne Frisbee and Linda Youmans at Monterey Bay AquariumWetland Stewards Develop Teaching Skills

The Wetland Stewards class of 2011 have been developing a number of teaching strategies such as inquiry-based learning to engage their students. In December 2010 they visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium with docent Linda Youmans. The stewards observed the teaching strategies of the volunteers and docents to improve their own practice. Many of the stewards remarked about the enthusiasm and engagement of the educators at the aquarium. Next semester, the stewards will be teaching about wetland habitats and restoration in the Watsonville Sloughs.

Stewards Mentor Aquatic Invertebrates Study

Elementary Students work in lab with invertebrates Cloth "models" of aquatic invertebrates made by elementary school children

The Stewards mentored 4th and 5th graders from Radcliffe and Calabasas elementary schools teaching them to monitor and study aquatic invertebrates as part of Project Tierra. The first week the students visited Watsonville Slough to collect the animals from the water and mud. The following week the classes visited the WERC to observe and identify their samples. Using microscopes and an aquatic invertebrates key, the students used datasheets to record the species they identified . They observed a crayfish, dragonfly larva, damselfly larva, and water boatmen. At the end of the lab, they analyzed the data to determine the health of the Watsonville Slough in early December ; results suggested the elementary school students outdoors at sunsetslough health was “good.” They also learned what kinds of conditions may change these results.

On another visit, the students toured the WERC and took a walk in the wetlands with binoculars at sunset. There were a number of frog and mice sightings! During the final weeks of the eight-week program, they built their own models of aquatic invertebrate “bugs” to take home. (01/2011)

Class of 2011

Four Wetland Stewards in Two Kayaks on SloughWetland Stewards with instructors using binoculars for birdwatchingAs part of their training on Watsonville’s wetlands, our six new Wetland Stewards (Jose Alanis, Rosemary Alvarez, Jennifer Baker, Anthony Barrios, Yadira Grajeda, and Ventura Vega) explored the sloughs on kayaks in early September. With permission from local land owners we were able to provide this unique educational and inspirational experience to help our students learn about the ecology, plants, and animals of the wetlands.

Aside from kayaking, the stewards had a chance to practice some of the teaching techniques they’ve been learning, such as asking open- ended questions.  As another part of their training, the stewards learned about birds from Michelle Templeton and Cristy Cassel of the City’s Wetlands of Watsonville Nature Center.  They not only refined their skills with binoculars, they learned about birds and how to teach elementary students about birds.

Elephant Seal Female and PubClass of 2010

2010 was a great year to be a mentor for the Wetland Stewards After-School Program.  Our high school mentors (Andrea, Fernando, Jasmin, Sandra, Rudy and Miguel) taught an environmental after-school program at Mintie White Elementary School and Lakeview elementary school. They are exploring neighboring watersheds and other eco-systems, and they took a field trip to Año Nuevo to watch and study Northern elephant seals.

Our spring 2010 theme was “Wetland Stewards learn habitats.” During these sessions the mentors assisted with a variety of teaching tasks ranging from bird feeder creation to restoration projects.  Throughout the spring they worked continuously, crafting  animal presentations, using animal skulls, live animals, or exhibit animals from the WERC. The mentors gave these presentations to younger students who participate in the after-school program.

Laura Hofmeister, WWW Benefactor

Laura Hofmeister is a long-time Watch supporter and friend of the wetlands. Laura initially supported the Watch by providing funds inherited from her mother to create our greenhouse. The greenhouse is dedicated in honor of her mother, Ruth Hofmeister, a teacher and librarian who passed her love of nature on to her eight children, in part by making them learn the names of plants, animals, and insects. “My mother was always sending us outside,” said Laura in a recent interview. “We would build dams, climb trees, do a lot of outdoor things.”

Laura Hofmeister
Laura Hofmeister at the opening ceremony
for the Greenhouse, Sept. 20, 2006.

But for Laura Hofmeister, her gift of the greenhouse was not enough. Laura, who is a medical doctor and pathologist by training and mother of four, is concerned that many people today have “nature deficit disorder” and are disconnected from the natural world. “In the electronic world, people have the illusion that they are in control of everything. Our recent storms are a reminder of the power and wonder of nature. My daughter went with me to Big Basin during the last big rain; we saw an amazing waterfall there — it may never be like that again.”

To support the Watch’s efforts to connect youth with nature, Laura contributed $500 to the Watch’s first scholarship, awarded last June to Sandra Lobato. Lobato, a docent and former Wetland Steward, is finishing her first year in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. Then, in 2010, Laura pledged a gift of $10,000 per year for five years, which will endow both an annual $1000 scholarship for a student and a two-semester stipend each year for a Wetland Steward — forever. Says Laura, “It means a lot to me to play a part in bringing nature to future generations.”

Foundation Grants

In fall 2009, Watsonville Wetlands Watch received a second grant from the S.H. Cowell Foundation to help us integrate citizen science into our Wetland Stewards After School Program.  We have been very successful in getting our after school middle and high school students interested and engaged in the wetlands over the last three years and are now ready to challenge students further by mentoring them to take on the role of scientist.

In Spring of 2009, WWW was awarded a new grant from Community Foundation Santa Cruz County in the amount of 20K. The grant will be used to enhance and broaden the Wetland Stewards Program. We are excited to receive support from the Community Foundation and this recognition of the importance of environmental education.

Goals and Objectives:

students read illustrated book in lab
  • Infuse and refine the Wetland Stewards After School program by involving students in real-life field science through wetland biodiversity monitoring and data collection
  • Further student engagement in wetland biodiversity monitoring through mentor and docent-facilitated projects
  • Create a medium for students and community members to share wetland biodiversity monitoring data with the scientific community so that the whole community may take part in planning for future land conservation and management decisions

Wetland Stewards Program Outline:

  • Discover!! Students are introduced to the wonders of the Watsonville Wetlands through field trips to the wetlands and Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center and through hands-on inquiry-based activities from our Wetlands Stewards Curriculum Guide.
  • Monitor!! Students participate in Project Tierra, WWW’s Wetland Biodiversity Monitoring Project. They get to know the aquatic invertebrates of the Watsonville sloughs and learn how they fit into nature’s delicate web of life through field monitoring and a lab study. They will record their data into our database.
  • Research!! Students search for information regarding a particular aquatic invertebrate that they have found in the wetlands and then work together to figure out what aquatic invertebrates tell us about wetland health and what we as wetland stewards can do to keep our wetlands clean.
  • Create!! Students use the information they gather about their aquatic invertebrate to design a project that tells us about wetland water quality and what we can do to keep the wetlands clean.
  • Take Action!! Students present their projects to an audience and display them as an exhibit at their school and the WERC to educate other students about the importance of keeping our wetlands clean.

Wetland Stewards Events & Stewards-Produced Video

In June, 2008, seven Wetland Stewards gave presentations and celebrated their graduations.
For more, click image:
In May 2008, the Wetland Stewards spent two days
at Big Sur, camping and exploring.
For more, click image:
Presentation thumbnail
Presentation thumbnail

Find out more about our Wetland Stewards Program