On May 24, Coastkeeper, the city of San Diego, San Diego Unified School District, the port of San Diego and several other partners joined together at a press conference to launch the 2nd grade unit for Project SWELL, a water quality and pollution prevention curricula being taught in all San Diego City Schools. With Mayor Jerry Sanders, Port Chairwoman Sylvia Rios and SDUSD Board Vice President Sheila Jackson joining Coastkeeper at the event, held at Santa Clara Point on Mission Bay, it was an exciting time for our local waters.   

As the 2nd grade unit goes into full rotation in September, Project SWELL will be reaching over 42,000 elementary school students annually in San Diego City Schools.

The curricula currently includes Pebbles, Sand, and Silt (2nd grade); Ecosystems (4th grade); Water (5th grade); and Landforms (6th grade). Coastkeeper and its partners are continuing to develop new grade levels for San Diego schools, and we will soon be launching the program in the Oceanside Unified School District , and hopefully other districts in coming years.  

The intent of Project SWELL curricula is to foster a sense of environmental stewardship among our children — the leaders and environmental caretakers of our future. Project SWELL does this by providing on-going, interactive and science-based curricula tailored for local schools that students will ultimately receive from the time they enter kindergarten to when they graduate high school. By providing real-world science lessons on subjects that directly touch local students, I believe Project SWELL also enhances the education of our youth.

The rationale for Project SWELL is simple — it is aimed at helping reduce what is now the leading source of pollution to local waters — urban runoff (often called non-point source pollution). Urban runoff includes the pet waste, oil and grease from cars, pesticides and herbicides from our lawns, trash, and host of other toxins that reach our waters untreated through the stormdrain system (those inlets in our streets that always seem to be accumulating leaves and other debris). While many factors contribute to non-point source pollution, including local land-use decisions, we must recognize that we all play in urban runoff pollution and we therefore must all be part of the solution.

Coastkeeper began focusing on addressing urban runoff by reaching students through Project SWELL as we believe this provides the best long-term solution to the environmental crisis that faces our community. As Senegalese Conservationist Baba Dioum has said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”

On of the most gratifying aspects of the Project SWELL press conference was seeing the lessons taught to a class from Chavez Elementary School. Students immediately understood what so many adults fail to grasp — the “cause and effect” between our individual actions and what ends up in our environment; the concept that pollution prevention, not “pollution dilution,” is the solution to our environmental crisis; and even more real word lessons, such as what ends up in our streets will ultimately reach our waters where it threatens wildlife and public health.

I was glad Mayor Sanders, Chairwoman Rios and Vice President Jackson were able to stay and see our future leaders grasp these concepts. It is unfortunate that many of our current leaders do not appreciate the same realities … but that will be the subject of my next post. I end this entry with my hope that Project SWELL, while directly aimed at promoting a stewardship ethic that will impact individual actions of local students, will also help to foster a sense among our leaders of tomorrow that we must also take community action if we are going to sustain our local environment and our planet for the generations that follow.  


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