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Kids Go Green Thanks to SDG&E’s Generosity

SDG&E is much more than an electricity and gas company. In addition to powering our region, it generously supports local organizations that protect and enhance the world around us.

Over the past seven years, SDG&E has donated almost $8 million to green non-profit organizations. This year, SDG&E is giving another $1 million to support organizations that promote environmental education, community engagement, and stewardship to the K-12 populations of underserved communities in San Diego County and southern Orange County. The deadline to submit an application is April 8. Click here for more information.

SDG&E is especially proud of the commitment of its Environmental Champions to local schoolchildren. Here are four ways that SDG&E helps students learn to love the earth:

These biological specimens are available for educators to borrow from San Diego Natural History Museum.

1. Bobcats, Owls and Foxes in the Classroom, Oh My!

With financial support from SDG&E, the San Diego Natural History Museum’s Education Department is helping educators bring the animal world to the classroom in the most vivid way possible.

Through the museum’s Nature to You program, teachers can check out hundreds of preserved taxidermy mounts of birds and mammals. Preserved insects and fossils are also available to be borrowed.

“Teachers use the museum’s specimens in their classrooms to reinforce lesson plans. For instance, a teacher working on a lesson to compare the wildlife of urban habitats with undeveloped areas might bring in a raccoon, a skunk, and a pigeon to represent urban wildlife,” says Katrice Lee, the museum’s senior director of Development and Grants. “For comparison, a bobcat, a gray fox, and a barn owl might be used to indicate rural or undeveloped areas. The specimens are a wonderful way to introduce students to the varied wildlife in Southern California and the habitats that are, in many cases, only a short drive from populated areas.”

More than 90 people, mostly teachers at more than 50 San Diego schools, are now members of the Nature to You program. “We also serve California state parks, national parks, ecological reserves and libraries as well as local colleges,” Lee says. “We estimate these specimens reach more than 70,000 people. The most sought-after specimens last year were the desert cottontail rabbit, the coyote, the desert tortoise, and an educational kit called the ‘beak and feet kit.’”

Teachers can check out these animal skulls from the San Diego Natural History Museum and use them in the classroom.

2. Kids Get Up Close and Personal with Sea Life

When it comes to learning about life around them, children often live in a look-but-don’t-touch world of animals in cages and exhibits behind glass. Thanks to Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s outreach program, which receives financial support from SDG&E, schoolchildren from across the region lose their fear of the unknown by encountering sea life in person and up close.

Through events like Discovery Lab at the aquarium, Beach Teach at tide pools and Aquarium Express Outreach at campuses, children as young as 4 or 5 can touch shark teeth, dissect squid, and hold live fish.

And that’s not all: Specially trained educators teach students about the low risks of danger from sea animals like sharks. “When you demystify things, children are no longer afraid of them,” says Birch Aquarium program manager Emily Arnold. “We open new doors for the kids and encourage them to explore new horizons.”

With support from SDG&E, Birch Scripps Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography brings exhibits about sea life like this to schoolchildren through its education program.

3. Kids Monitor the Coast and Keep It Clean

How should we encourage students to become stewards of the environment? Local nonprofit, Wildcoast, knows the answer: Put them to work in ways that reveal and showcase their power to make a difference.

With support from SDG&E, Wildcoast provides several programs for local children, especially those from low-income communities:

  • Youth Science Cruises bring students to two marine-protected areas off our coast via a fishing vessel. They collect and analyze data on fish distribution, plankton populations and marine conditions, , and they use this data later in the classroom and contribute it to a statewide monitoring network.
  • In partnership with the Girl Scouts, Native American tribes and other organizations, Wildcoast brings students to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They get hands-on, behind-the-scenes tours and talks with scientists about local marine ecology. In addition, they tour La Jolla Cove on kayaks and conduct surveys of how humans use the coast and ocean.
  • Many participants in these programs take part in Wildcoast’s cleanups of the Tijuana River Valley during Tijuana River Action Month. They remove an average of 30,000 pounds of ocean-bound trash each year.

“Most of the students that participate in our projects have limited access to the ocean and coast, and we facilitate their opportunities to enjoy them,” says Conservation Director Zachary Plopper. “We want these students to carry the knowledge and experience they get through this projects with them through high school and into college. They may pursue careers in the sciences or conservation and lead the way for coastal ecosystem protection in the future.”

Girl Scouts from San Ysidro, seen here at the ocean, have pioneered the Marine Protected Area Watch Program, the first of its kind in the state, and have led efforts to clean up the Tijuana River Valley, both in conjunction with Wildcoast.

4. Buses Bring Inner-City Kids to Nature

In the urban core of San Diego, a child’s exposure to nature might only consist of a guinea pig in the classroom, the trees along the street, and the cat next door. The San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy’s new Watershed Explorers program aims to bring kids to the natural worlds beyond the borders of their lives and imaginations.

With support from SDG&E, the program takes kids on bus rides to natural wonders like North County’s San Dieguito Lagoon to Julian’s Volcan Mountain. The idea is to introduce them to the watershed of the San Dieguito River and educate them about the watershed’s vitality and its crucial role in the local environment.

“Students develop a ‘sense of place’ and appreciation for the environment by recognizing how we all play a role in keeping the natural community a thriving ecosystem,” says Trish Boaz, executive director of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy. “At each stop, students test the water for its ability to support the life in the watershed. We end with a reflective moment in nature.”

Fifty children have taken part so far this year, and two more events are planned in 2016. And that’s not all. “Our intention in developing this program is to create a model for use in other watersheds in the region,” Boaz says.

Do you know of an environmentally minded non-profit organization that could benefit from SDG&E grant funding? If so, encourage them to apply for a 2016 Environmental Champions grant from SDG&E. For more information, visit SDG&E’s Environmental Champions page.

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