Project Tierra — a program initiated by Watsonville Wetlands Watch (WWW) of Watsonville, California — offers students in Santa Cruz County a unique opportunity. They spend a day in the nearby West Struve Slough, taking on the roles of wildlife researchers; counting species, testing water quality, and collecting specimens.
The project provides students with a hands-on, real-life learning experience, but when the day is done, the learning continues. Once back in the classroom, students use the data they collect to learn math concepts, and their species and water quality assessments are carried out further in the biology and chemistry lab.
But Project Tierra isn't just about learning, students are also exposed — many for the first time — to the beauty and unique ecology of the area's wetland ecosystems. It’s a win-win for Watsonville Wetlands Watch and area school districts.
Project Tierra came about in 2011, when WWW received a $125,000 grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. (See David and Lucile Packard Foundation: Bay Area Grants). Truly, the project is indicative of just the type of project the foundation funds.
In Packard's local grantmaking program, one of their five subprograms is conservation and science, and program officers look for nonprofits that "offer environmental education and promote environmental stewardship to young people; educate young people about the unique environment and landscapes of the five counties they fund, and engage families and the community with their local environment." (Read Packard Foundation director of Conservation and Science Walt Reid's IP profile).
Project Tierra couldn't be a more perfect match.
As far as WWW's educational efforts, Packard has been a longtime supporter. In 2007, the foundation provided a $100,000 grant for the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center.
The Fitz WERC began as a joint venture between WWW, the City of Watsonville, and the Pajaro Valley Unified School District to provide the area's students and community members an opportunity to learn about the region's distinctive wetlands environments. Now, the educational center hosts an indoor-outdoor wetlands learning center, with classroom space, a visitor's center, a greenhouse and wet lab, and a native plant exhibit.
The philosophy behind creating the center was to "engage our youth in a fascinating hands-on learning process that offers opportunities for future careers and simultaneously preserves local habitat."
Clearly, Packard has made a commitment to environmental issue in giving students and young people the chance to witness the beauty of nature. (Read Packard Foundation Chair, Susan Packard Orr's IP Profile).