everyday SCIENCE The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Pajaro Valley Unified School District Working Together
In 2002, MERITO launched a pilot program in partnership with the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. Working with Pajaro Middle School and the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, educators began by developing activities and field experiences. These experiences would become a full curriculum aligned with California state standards and designed specifically for a diverse population of learners.
During the first year, 34 lesson plans were piloted with middle school students. Lessons ranged from native plant restoration, to shark tagging, to crab monitoring. Students met once a week to work on these hands-on science activities.
But lessons were not the only element of the curriculum. As part of the program, scientists from the field visited the students in their after-school setting to share their research with them. To cap the experience, participants went on numerous field trips to such places as the Watsonville Waste Water Treatment Plant, the Monterey County Waste Management District, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The pilot program was a success. As a result, the former school superintendent requested funds to expand the program to the three other middle schools in the district. Karen Grimmer, acting superintendent of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary and a champion of the program, summarized the reasons behind the program’s effectiveness: “Our communities are multinational and multilingual in nature. Our programs need to reflect the community in order to successfully communicate the importance of protecting our coastal and ocean resources.”
The program introduced students to the precious environment in their own backyard. Once students had a better understanding of this ecosystem and the role they could play in protecting it, they embraced the charge and became stewards and advocates of the environment. In the process, the students also learned important science concepts and became energized and excited about the possibilities available to them through a strong background in science.18