California students tackle marine debris issues with One Cool Earth project

As marine debris issues continue to impact our environment, it’s become especially important to equip educators and students to take action starting in their classrooms through litter-reduction education. One Cool Earth (OCE), with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program prevention grant, is working with students from 17 participating elementary schools across six school districts in San Luis Obispo, California.

Five children stand together with their backs turned looking at a garden outside as if to survey their work.

Kermit King Elementary’s “Green Team” helps to lead sustainability projects on campus under One Cool Earth’s guidance. Together, they will improve the school’s waste prevention and management by dedicating their lunch period to make sure all cafeteria trash is properly sorted and their worm composting system is operating efficiently. (Image credit: One Cool Earth)

Working with students, parents, teachers, and school administrators, OCE hopes to institutionalize marine debris and waste prevention education in schools by engaging the whole community in hands-on experiences and stewardship activities that improve the health of our environment. Activities include student-led vermicomposting systems to reduce food waste, brainstorming how to improve campus disposal practices, and participating in a virtual field trip to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to learn more about how our on-shore habits affect our coastal ecosystems. With over 50% of students identifying as primarily Latino, OCE consulted with Latino support groups and associations to adapt their program activities to be culturally appropriate and translated all educational materials into Spanish to better reach their bilingual audience. Throughout the pandemic, OCE was able to successfully adapt its activities to the virtual environment and utilized all lessons and resources from other offices at NOAA, and distributed educational kits to students. 

Beyond OCE’s direct work with students, this organization also aids public school teachers in utilizing educational school gardens independently by providing free professional development opportunities, complete with Next Generation Science Standards-aligned lesson demonstrations, bilingual curriculum, external resources, and lesson implementation guidance.  

Taking it one step further, OCE will be releasing a Marine Debris Prevention Best Practices Manual in early 2022. Aimed towards influencing district practices from the lens of school leadership, this manual tackles the issue of sustainability on campuses and includes best practices to prevent marine debris in the classroom, cafeteria, garden, and playground. Following its completion, this comprehensive guide will be distributed to over 10 school districts in the Central Coast region, as well as made available for public access on their website. 

As part of Marine Debris Program’s network of prevention grants, OCE will continue its efforts in litter-reduction education into 2022 and help students in San Luis Obispo county and beyond to become ocean stewards.