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Teaching children to protect watersheds

Chris D’Angelo - The Garden Island

December 13, 2013

LIHUE — For more than 10 years, the nonprofit Hawaii Health Coalition has been teaching children across the state to protect their watersheds and be better stewards of their environment.

“Get ‘em while they’re young,” said Sen. Mike Gabbard, who co-founded the HHC with his daughter, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

This week, Gabbard brought HHC’s “The Hawaii Watershed Experience,” a hands-on elementary education program, back to Kauai. Approximately 250 third graders from Kapaa and King Kaumualii elementary schools participated over a three day period.

First, Gabbard starred as Oily Al in a humorous skit about protecting watersheds. Later, students were taken on a field trip to Lydgate Beach Park, where Gabbard taught them about non-point source pollution, erosion and the potential health risks associated with murky water.

Cari Barcial, a third-grade teacher at Kaumualii, said her students really enjoyed the program and it was clear to her that they learned a lot.

“I think that the kids liked that the activities were hand-on … They all seemed engaged,” she said. “Hopefully they go home and teach their family members what not to do.”

Other activities included water quality testing led by Gabbard’s wife Carol, trash pick-up and working through an activity book aimed at reinforcing the program’s main concepts.

Kaumualii third grader Shayne Shibuya said he enjoyed Gabbard’s demonstration and that he is most concerned about pollution entering watersheds.

When asked if he ever picks up trash that isn’t his, Shibuya said, “Yeah.”

The curriculum for The Hawaii Watershed Experience integrates drama, field experiences, visual demonstrations, record keeping, chemistry, conservation themes, problem solving, art and music to accommodate various learning abilities, according to the website.

Gabbard said that since 2002 the HHC team has brought the program to over 50 elementary schools across the state, reaching more than 6,000 students.

“The neat thing about it is we get a small grant from the Department of Health,” he said. “All of us are volunteers. But it helps pay for the buses, to rent the buses, and also for the materials.”

In 2004, the state DOH’s Clean Water Branch and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency jointly granted funds to HHC to expand the program to reach Pearl Harbor and West Maui.

In 2005, an additional grant enabled The Hawaii Watershed Experience to make special presentations on Kauai and Molokai, as well as the North Shore and Windward side of Oahu, according to a release for the event.

Beginning in 2010, HHC was able to offer The Hawaii Watershed Experience at no cost to public and private schools on every island.

For more information visit www.healthyhawaiicoalition.com.