Students learn the ‘Hawai‘i Watershed Experience’

KAPA’A — The elementary school’s lunchroom began to fill with talkative second- and third-graders. Snaking through the maze of long tables with their teachers, the students found their seats facing a stage set up with a sparkling blue river, a happy house in front of a waterfall and a jar of crystal clear water. Sen. Mike Gabbard representing the 19th district on O‘ahu and his wife Carol presented “The Hawai‘i Watershed Experience” to students at Kapa‘a and ‘Ele‘ele Elementary schools in the hope of educating the young community members about the importance of taking care of our island’s water supply.

The program, designed and written by the senator and his daughter Tulsi Gabbard in 2001, have shared their message with close to 3,500 students state-wide. “The keiki just love it,” said Gabbard. “The earlier you start this type of environmental education, the better — these are lessons completely accessible to young people, and maybe if they take it home and share with their parents, the curriculum can affect everyone.”

The three day program includes an orientation and educational skit performed at the school, a field trip to a local beach where the students do trash pick-up, erosion study and water testing and the third day includes reviewing concepts and written activities. “When we designed the program we began with a simple question: How can we keep Hawai‘i beautiful? Taking care of our ‘aina and water supply is paramount in that mission,” said Sen. Gabbard.

As the students quieted down, Carol Gabbard began asking basic questions that eventually led to a discussion on the water cycle and the importance of water for our everyday needs.

“What do you use water for?” she asked the students. A sea of enthusiastic hands went up: “For drinking, to wash our hands, to give to our animals, to take a bath, to brush our teeth … and to swim,” responded the students.

“Where does the water we use come from?” Carol asked.

The students worked their way backwards through the water cycle — from the ocean, the pipes, the mountains to the rain. Taking five volunteers from the captive audience, Carol Gabbard showed what can happen during the water cycle if pollutants are added to streams, storm drains, gardens or golf courses. As she added tablespoons of grease, chemicals, dirt and soap to the jar of clean water, the students gasped in disgust, “uhhh … ahhh … yuck,” they all screamed.

The humorous skit starred “Oily Al” — an ignorant polluting member of society, and “Water Woman” — a cape-wearing super hero who teaches Oily Al how to be a more responsible citizen. Showing him where not to throw used car oil, how to water plants without too many pesticides, throwing trash in the appropriate bins, and not allowing pets to use the nearby stream as a toilet, Oily Al and Water Woman took students through an easily digestible lesson in environmental policy.

“We’ve got to work together to keep Hawai‘i clean, from the mountains to the oceans, from the land to the streams …” then Oily Al and Water Woman encouraged the kids to “take this message home to your ‘ohana,” for a healthier Hawai‘i.

The Watershed Education Program sent invitations to all of Kaua‘i’s elementary schools, but Kapa‘a and ‘Ele‘ele were the only schools to respond. The senator hopes to return to do more workshops with schools. “It’s always hard to leave Kaua‘i and go back to O‘ahu, it’s just so beautiful here,” he said.

For more information on the program, visit www.healthyhawaiicoalition.com or call Ali Riggs at 778-4243.

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