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California City Solutions: Agoura Hills Partners with School District to Offer Water Quality Outdoor Education Program

March 14, 2014
This story is the first in an ongoing series of stories featuring Helen Putnam Award entries. These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions.
Agoura Hills’ Water Quality Outdoor Education Program was submitted in 2013 for the CCS Partnership Intergovernmental Collaboration award category.
With water quality a top concern for the city for Agoura Hills, the city decided to create a youth education program about how life choices affect the environment. Previously the city collaborated on a number of water quality projects as a member of the Malibu Creek Watershed, but none targeted students. The challenge was to develop a program that would teach students objectives focused on water quality, watershed awareness, and stream ecology.

Students are first introduced to environmental science in the fourth grade so the city approached the Las Virgenes Unified School District (LVUSD) and the Resource Conservation District of Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM) to develop a Water Quality Educational Program to incorporate into the regular school curriculum.
A team of environmental educators from RCDSMM presents the two and a half hour program that comprises five hands-on lessons that align with California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts.
The following is a description of each activity and specific learning objectives:
  • Watershed Model: The concept of a watershed is paramount in teaching water quality. We all live in a watershed, which is positively or negatively affected depending on how we choose to live. This concept is demonstrated through the use of a watershed model. The model shows what happens to pollutants in a watershed after it rains. Students run the model and discover for themselves what happens.
  • The pH Scale/Water Testing: Students are introduced to the concept of pH — what it is and why it’s so important to the health of our local streams, estuaries, and ocean. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14 (acid to base) measuring the percentage of hydrogen ions in water. The safety zone for wildlife is 6 to 8.5 (7 being neutral). Harmful inputs into the watershed can seriously alter the pH of our waterways making them uninhabitable for aquatic life. Students test samples taken from local water sources for their pH levels, and then test common household cleaning items to see how they compare.
  • Plankton Lab: People are often surprised to learn that our waterways are teaming with microscopic plants and animals known as plankton. Working with live samples from local waterways, students use microscopes to observe and identify tiny organisms, while learning about the important role that they play in the ecosystem.
  • Steelhead Trout: Southern California populations of steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 since 1997. These fish are unique in that they can carry out their life cycle in two very different environments (freshwater and ocean). In this rotation, students participate in a simulation activity that teaches them about the life cycle of steelhead and the challenges that steelhead encounter throughout their complex life cycle.
  • Food Web Social Game: An ecosystem is made up of an assemblage of living and non-living elements that interact within a given area. A food chain demonstrates in a simplified manner the process by which energy is transferred throughout an ecosystem. Students act out the food chain of an aquatic ecosystem. They learn about the importance of the different groups within a food chain and the effects of water quality and human impacts on these groups and the ecosystem as a whole.
Initially the program was given at RCDSMM facilities, but as field trips were cut due to budget constraints, the outdoor education program was brought to the schools.
The program received positive feedback from teachers, students and administrators from LVUSD. Five schools in the cities of Calabasas and Westlake Village were added in the last school year for a total of eight participating elementary schools, reaching more than 800 students.
City officials support the program by attending the presentations and reminding students that they play an important role in preventing water pollution.

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