Our County Science Initiative’s Roots and Shoots are Growing!

With all the late rains this year, you may have noticed an extra burst of green in the landscape and gardens. It is a fitting metaphor for the new growth we see happening across our county’s school districts. Our County Science Initiative’s efforts to entwine environmental literacy with science are taking root and teachers are nurturing these connections.

four teachers leaning over picnic table with ocean in backgroundDuring the first week of summer, 57 teachers were back at work participating in our Teacher Leadership Institute for Science and Environmental Literacy. These teachers are the latest cohort in a network of K-12 teachers who are diving deep into Next Generation Science Standards and connecting them to our local environment. They represent schools in every one of our county’s 10 school districts plus our alternative education program, a strategic choice that is part of a plan to ensure that inspiring, student-centered science and environmental literacy experiences will reach all communities.

During the weeklong Teacher Leadership Institute, teachers braved the record-breaking heat to get down and dirty (and sometimes wet!) during field science investigations in the UCSC Younger Lagoon Reserve, in tidepools at Natural Bridges, and at native plant restoration sites along our coastline. They worked together with 20 environmental educators from 13 local community-based organizations who partnered with us to support our schools in connecting science lessons to outdoor programs that make student learning more relevant, exciting and personal.

Teachers who completed a full year of the leadership program in 2018-19 report benefits to their learning that extend to their students in many ways. Across the grades, here is what teachers had to say:

 “I became an informed teacher with greater skills to teach science.  An excited teacher eager to share/practice my new learnings.   I believe I transferred to each of my students my emotion for discovering patterns around us and formulating questions that would help us be more specific and get to an answer.” –-Kindergarten Teacher

 Students practiced “thinking skills, writing skills, inquiry skills, nature journaling, integrated field trips  – [and got] TIME to go in depth and revisit, to elaborate and grow our understanding.” —3rd Grade Teacher

 “It was awesome to meet all these different teachers and talk about our experiences. Because of the work we did, in the district I was really able to come forward as a leader and that felt great to be able to help others along with the process.” –5th Grade Teacher

 “With a more thorough understanding of Next Generation Science Standards, I think I taught better.  I also brought way more nature into the classroom.  I also think doing environmental volunteering impacts their [students] lives a lot.” –-Middle School Teacher

 “Making connections to our local ecosystems has resulted in so much more student engagement with the science content. Students come to class each day sharing observations about their community that relate to what we have learned.” —High School Teacher

Our science and environmental literacy efforts in the county ultimately depend on classroom teachers, so we are incredibly fortunate to have this dedicated group. These teachers really seem to have green thumbs for growing science and environmental programs! Santa Cruz County Office of Education and our district partners are excited to continue tending this fertile ground, working together to support teachers and students to reach their full bloom.