In 2009, District Board Member Al Miller attended an El Cerrito City Council meeting where Mandi Billinge, Executive Director and Founder of KIDS for the BAY, gave a presentation of her program, which the City of El Cerrito sponsors annually. KIDS for the BAY is a non-profit organization founded in 1992 that brings a hands-on approach to teaching environmental awareness to elementary school students throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Through the sponsorship of a network of county and local governmental agencies, foundations, and local donors, KIDS for the BAY, teaches students to be good stewards of their environment. Hands-on science and nature field trips are a big part of their mission to inspire young students to become environmentally aware. Whether students are getting their hands dirty with a striped bass, using satellite maps to create their own estuary model, or cleaning up trash from the beach, students learn that they share responsibility for their environment and that everyone has a right to a clean and healthy watershed. Students learn how their school neighborhood, local creeks, the San Francisco Bay, and the Pacific Ocean are all inter-connected and that they have a duty to help protect the health of San Francisco Bay. In addition to empowering students to be good stewards of their watershed, KIDS for the BAY provides professional training and resources to teachers, so they can continue to lead future classes in learning the importance of environmental stewardship.
The Stege Sanitary District has a long history of public outreach. In addition to printing a newsletter, maintaining a website, and participating in civic events, directors and staff often speak to local organizations about what the district does and how it is important to their daily lives. So, when Director Miller heard Ms. Billinge speak, he was interested in the idea of the district also sponsoring KIDS for the BAY. He thought the sponsorship would be a good fit because of the district’s commitment to both the environment and to the community. In particular, he was impressed by the core principle of the organization: students would not only learn about their environment and their role in protecting it, they would also teach what they learned. Students engaged in the KIDS for the BAY program bring their new knowledge home to their families and their community. At the completion of the program, students hold an assembly for the whole school in which they give an environmental awareness presentation accompanied by the graphs and posters they made.
While considering sponsoring KIDS for the BAY, the Stege Sanitary District realized that their program did not discuss wastewater. Sewer overflows not only cost money to clean up, when untreated wastewater gets into nearby storm drains and creeks, the health of San Francisco Bay is threatened. The district felt that students should learn about the sanitary sewer system, how the sewer system is different than the storm drain system, and that by being aware of what they flush down the toilet or pour down the drain, they can have an impact on the health of San Francisco Bay. The district approached Ms. Billinge with an offer to sponsor KIDS for the BAY if such a component was added to their program.
KIDS for the BAY readily agreed to develop and add a wastewater component to their curriculum and by unanimous consent, the Stege Sanitary District Board of Directors approved support of KIDS for the BAY.
Now, KIDS for the BAY students throughout the Bay Area learn about the importance of preventing sanitary sewer system back-ups, the problems caused by pollution entering the bay through the sanitary sewer system, and how to reduce this pollution. They learn about the importance of keeping Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) out of the sanitary sewer system. Students brainstorm different types of foods that contain FOG, learn how FOG can collect in pipes and cause sanitary sewer system back-ups and overflows, and learn how to dispose of FOG safely to prevent back-ups and overflows. Students learn how the sanitary sewer system and the storm drain system are normally separate systems, but when an overflow occurs, sewage water can enter the storm drain system and cause serious pollution problems.
KIDS for the BAY students learn that “flushable” wipes are not actually flushable, that they cause clogging and back-up problems when flushed down the toilet. Students are taught that these wipes should, instead, be disposed of in the garbage. Students learn that putting prescription medicine, household chemicals and automotive fluids into the sanitary sewer system can introduce harmful chemicals to the bay. They learn that these items should not be poured down the drain, but should be taken to local disposal sites.
KIDS for the BAY students take home free food scrapers and educate their families to use scrapers to remove FOG from pots and pans after cooking and dispose of FOG in the garbage can. They complete take-home interviews and make pledges with family members to change their behaviors at home to reduce sanitary sewer system pollution.
Based on the success of this partnership and the enthusiastic participation of the schools involved, the District has continued its sponsorship. For the past ten years, through its sponsorship of KIDS for the BAY, the Stege Sanitary District has annually supported students and teachers in learning about their environment.
Over 600 students have discovered that a healthy sewer system helps our creeks and our bay. The District plans to continue sponsoring KIDS for the BAY and inspiring a new generation of environmentalists with an increased awareness of watershed stewardship.
Since learning that the Stege Sanitary District won the 2019 CSDA Exceptional Public Outreach & Advocacy Award, other districts in the Bay Area are considering sponsorship of KIDS for the BAY.