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Colorful mural of a town and watershed.
Mural at DeZavala Middle School. Photo credit: Artist Boat

Visual Learning Legacies Crafted by Youth Watershed Leaders

eeBLUE: Watershed Chronicles

This post was written by Sarah Frantz, education program manager at Artist Boat.

Colorful mural of a town and watershed with a table of book in front During the school year of 2021–2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) teamed up with Houston’s Citizens’ of Environmental Coalition (CEC), Artist Boat (AB), and the Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF) to implement a robust educational after-school program known as the Watershed Leaders. Through this program, students from four different intermediate schools in the Pasadena Independent School District in Pasadena, Texas were introduced to the Galveston Bay watershed and the interconnected impacts that humans have on this planet.

Artist Boat is 501c(3) nonprofit organization located in Galveston, Texas whose mission is to “promote awareness and preservation of coastal margins and the marine environment through the disciplines of the sciences and the arts.” Artist Boat Eco-Art Educators Sarah Frantz, Emily Wooten, and Delaney McRitchie partnered with Southmore Intermediate School, Fred Roberts Middle School, DeZavala Middle School, and Bobby Shaw Middle School to deliver weekly hands-on, immersive, and engaging art and science workshops with activities designed to strengthen the students’ environmental literacy through various visual art mediums.

Two students stand at a desk to pain a mural Over the course of 16 weeks, with the guidance of Artist Boat staff, the students at each of the four schools created their very own “visual learning legacy” in the form of 8’x4’ large-scale acrylic murals. Designed to inspire stewardship of the Galveston Bay and bring awareness to the notion that we as people are deeply connected to the planet, these student-painted murals will live on each campus for all present and future viewers to see for many years to come. Each mural tells the story of the Galveston Bay—how it is fed by the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers, and how that water eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The murals showcase the unique organisms that thrive in the freshwater wetlands, oak motte, coastal prairie, saltwater wetlands, and dune and beach environments that can be seen all across the Texas coastline. Each school is uniquely depicted on the murals—surrounded by local human infrastructure such as roads, neighborhoods, refineries, and the city of Houston. Throughout the planning, designing, and implementation process of creating these murals, the students were able to visually see the connection between their homes, and how deeply interconnected humans are with the fragile and resilient ecosystems that surround them.

The NOAA Office of Education and NAAEE is partnering to increase environmental and science literacy among NOAA’s partners and external networks. This five-year partnership is supported by the U.S. Department of Education, NOAA and NAAEE are working together to provide enriching after-school watershed-related STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) projects through NOAA-21st Century Community Learning Centers Watershed STEM Education Partnership grants. These grants will support programming for a total of 100 local 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) sites and their students. The 30 selected projects are serving 18 states, ranging from Alaska to Florida.

In addition to creating a mural for each school campus, Artist Boat also guided the students to create the “Watershed Leaders Book Project.” Designed for students to demonstrate their knowledge about the importance of the Galveston Bay and the actions that they can take to protect the health of their local watershed, each student became the author of their very own “book.” Each page of their books used different artistic mediums to showcase a different environmental success or challenge that highlighted the central theme of Climate Change. Students painted images of coral reefs using SolarFast Paint which turns white in the sunlight in order to bring awareness to our warming oceans as a leading cause of coral bleaching. Students studied the concept of environmental carbon footprints by literally painting their own feet and observing their own footprints strategically placed over an environmental background. Other topics that were covered included:

  • the urban heat island effect
  • biodiversity loss
  • sea level rising
  • ocean acidification

Two teachers and a group of students cut red ribbon in a ceremonial unveiling of mural Every page of these books was accompanied by a succinct lesson, art project, and a discussion of tangible action steps the students can take to work through these environmental challenges that we as humanity are currently facing.

The conclusion of the program for each school resulted in a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, where the students and their families, teachers, partners, and Artist Boat staff gathered to celebrate with cake, admire the finished mural, and have an “autograph signing” for all of the Watershed Leaders Book Project authors. Together, the collaboration between these four schools and grant partners allowed for these brilliant-minded and passionate students to create visual learning legacies that will serve as inspiration for future Galveston Bay stewards for many years to come.