Friday, March 3, 2017

Changemakers show us the way.

Luis Perales beaming with pride that the Changemaker students' proposal was accepted.
When Luis Perales, CEO of Changemaker High School, invited me to meet with him to see how we could help each other, I had no idea what he wanted to talk about. Perhaps a status report on the doc Evan and I were making on water harvesting? It had been awhile since our initial meeting to see how we might include the incredible work Changemaker High was doing in the documentary. After a warm greeting, Luis asked me how I was doing. The great thing is - he really wanted to know. He had seen the frantic posts on my facebook page since Trump announced his intention to remove regulations protecting our water, and he was concerned that I might burn out. And to be honest, I have been stressing out. It seems like every day Trump is making another assault on the environment or human rights. And here Luis was offering support as a fellow sustainability advocate.

WMG coop workshop or "Where's Dan?"
If you’ve read our blog you know how passionate Dan and I are about restoring our aquifer through rainwater harvesting. As more states experience droughts like ours, there will be more competition for the Colorado River water that we all rely on. So it is urgent that we set up water harvesting in as many yards as possible. So, while I’ve blogged about water harvesting, Dan has spent his time digging catchment basins in other people’s yards (along with Watershed Management Group’s fabulous coop), helping maintain the desert landscaping and water harvesting features at Ward 6 and WMG’s Living Lab, giving tours of the Living Lab, and setting up a system to monitor it. 

While I’m thrilled that Dan has dedicated himself to advancing watershed management, it’s also kinda frustrating. With all of his volunteer work, Dan hasn’t had much time left to install our own water harvesting features. Last weekend he finally got around to planting a little mesquite tree in the front yard. And most people don’t have the expertise to work on their own yards, so they have to rely on a few experts. This creates what Luis calls the bottleneck effect – where you have to wait to get the work done. And, as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t getting done fast enough. 

Proposal shows catchment basins and berms in the flood plain
So I was really jazzed when Luis shared the plans Changemaker students had developed for restoring the floodplain in the Naylor neighborhood near their High School. They didn’t wait around for the experts to advise them. Students and educators became experts themselves -  alongside community members and environmental allies that were willing to share knowledge. How empowering is that?!!! 

Envisioning how lush the desert park will be
Luis Perales describes it best:

“The Swan Wash Bridge Project was initiated by a group of students who were challenged by their science instructor to take on a citizen science project that would have a positive impact in the local community. The group of students decided to focus their energies on alleviating a flooding problem that existed up the street from school and adjacent to a local park. The problem of flooding stemmed from the blockage of a neighborhood waterway, Swan Wash, by another local school. This problem was identified by the students because they had experienced the flooding first hand. This experience led them to conduct a root cause analysis, collect data from local community residents, and propose possible solutions. Their project findings were presented to the school, to the local neighborhood association, to local political leaders, and to audiences at local and national conferences. In short, the group of students along with their science instructor became mini experts on the issue of local flooding and the local wash. Their proposed solution was to create a pedestrian footbridge over the wash and to capture some of the flood water in roadside rainwater catchment basins. These basins are intended to utilize rainwater to support the needs of bird/pollinator gardens.”

The students presented their proposal to the Pima County Neighborhood Reinvestment Board on May 2, 2016. The recommendation to fully fund the project to the tune of $229,000 was announced on July 1, 2016! They got the final approval on their revised proposal on the day I was there! Needless to say, Luis’ enthusiasm was contagious!

While I fumble around trying to get the word out about water harvesting, these kids are demonstrating how important it is. They are educating the city of Tucson about transitioning from the current form of water management - flood control - to one that restores our floodplains and groundwater by directing the rainwater with berms and sinking it in with catchment basins. As their project progresses and succeeds, it will be used as a model for other schools to work with their communities on sustainable solutions.

All of this came out of Changemakers’ mission to change the face of education by creating the conditions where young people can turn their ideas into action. Through their example, they hope to create a culture where schools everywhere take on the responsibility of improving their communities. Perales explained, "Imagine what our communities would look like if every school would adopt their local community within a one to three mile radius. Imagine for a second that the school and its resources not only worked within their own gates to teach students to read, write, and do math, but with equal importance, taught students the skills necessary to transform the look, feel, and potential of their community."

Swan Wash Bridge Project Team: Adilene, Alejandra, Victoria, & Mrs. Snook (Missing, Laynah.)
I am so grateful to the Changemaker students for taking the initiative and advancing more sustainable water management as a practical solution for their community. And for giving me hope for the future.

Watch their video of their project. 

The video highlights the journey that Changemaker High School took to engage the Naylor Community to bring about infrastructure repair and beautification for Belvedere Boulevard and SWAN Wash Park. The process was multi-year and included students, staff, parents, community residents, local agencies, and government officials. This project is an embodiment of Changemaker Education and the mission of Changemaker High School.

SWAN Wash Project Story

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