NOAA partners with Department of Education to bring watershed education to out-of-school programs

Students in the largest out-of-school program in the nation will now have increased access to environmental education that advances science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). NOAA Office of Education is pleased to continue its partnership with U.S. Department of Education to implement high quality, watershed-focused STEM education at 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLCs).

Star Lake Elementary and Totem Middle School students work with the Environmental Science Center to sample macroinvertebrates at a field study site in Washington state as part of a 2017 NOAA-21st CCLC Watershed STEM Education Partnership Grant.
Star Lake Elementary and Totem Middle School students work with the Environmental Science Center to sample macroinvertebrates at a field study site in Washington state as part of a 2017 NOAA-21st CCLC Watershed STEM Education Partnership Grant. (Environmental Science Center)

21st CCLCs provide summer and before- and after-school educational opportunities for low-income youth. Through the Watershed STEM Education Partnership program, the Office of Education and the North American Association for Environmental Education offsite link (NAAEE) will support projects that connect 21st CCLC educators with experienced environmental educators to deliver STEM experiences that emphasize NOAA’s unique scientific assets.

This program is a part of the Department of Education’s interagency initiative to expand STEM education programs in 21st CCLCs. In addition to working with NOAA, the Department of Education has also partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Park Service on this initiative.

Watershed STEM projects will use the NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program’s meaningful watershed educational experiences (MWEE) model. MWEEs incorporate learning both outdoors and in the classroom to increase participants’ understanding and stewardship of watersheds and related ecosystems. This program expects to reach at least 60 21st CCLCs and impact more than 3,000 youth annually.

“We are excited to work with our partners to empower students and educators at 21st CCLC sites to explore their local environment,” said Louisa Koch, NOAA Director of Education. “Projects like these have tremendous potential to improve students’ STEM skills while engaging them in meaningful watershed experiences that connect to their lives, choices, and communities.”

This partnership program builds off of a successful pilot program implemented in 2017, which awarded $500,000 to 17 projects that reached over 1,600 youth and 184 educators and staff at 21st CCLCs across the country. Evaluation results indicated that these projects excelled at making STEM activities relevant to students’ lives and helped improve students’ understanding and awareness of their local watersheds. After completing the pilot, the B-WET program was recognized with the 2019 NOAA Bronze Medal award, the highest honor award granted by the NOAA Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere that recognizes federal employees for superior performance.

Seaberry Nachbar and Bronwen Rice accepted the Bronze Medal award on behalf of the B-WET program team at the 2019 NOAA Bronze Medal and Distinguished Career Awards Ceremony on May 14, 2019.
Seaberry Nachbar and Bronwen Rice accepted the Bronze Medal award on behalf of the B-WET program team at the 2019 NOAA Bronze Medal and Distinguished Career Awards Ceremony on May 14, 2019. (NOAA)

The following B-WET program team members received the Bronze Medal:

  • Bronwen Rice 
  • Kevin Schabow
  • Amy Clark
  • Colleen Coogan
  • Deirdre Kimball
  • Shannon Sprague
  • Cathy Green
  • Jacqueline Laverdure
  • Seaberry Nachbar
  • Stephanie Bennett

To learn more about this work, please visit the Watershed STEM Education Partnership program webpage.