Talking with An activist who brought the creek to kids

Name: Nila Rosen
Age: 42
City: Berkeley
Position: Researcher and grant writer at U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Weight and Health


J.: You have two kids at Berkeley’s Thousand Oaks Elementary School, and you recently wrote a grant proposal for the school to turn a creek on its property into an outdoor science laboratory. What inspired you?
Nila Rosen: Like many Berkeley parents, I’m active in the parent community of my kids’ school. Another parent whose husband is a water specialist found this grant opportunity, and I heard about it around Dec. 24 of last year. I handed it in on Jan. 16, and found out at the end of May that we got it. We’ll be starting this school year.

Nila Rosen

I do a lot of grant writing at my job and saw it as the most amazing opportunity for our school in terms of experiential education. I do a lot of program planning as well, so I thought it would be helpful if we found another organization to partner with. I found Cycles of Change, which does watershed and bicycle education. One of their directors got very excited about it, so the next step was getting the principal on board and some of the teachers.

J.: What do you know about the creek?
NR: The creek had been underneath the school, but in 1995 it was unearthed because there was a sewer line that was leaking into it. The city decided to investigate and clean it up, and then the intention was to create an outdoor science lab, but it never happened, mainly because of funding.
J.: Who is funding this?
NR: The California Bay Watershed Education Training Program, which is funded by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. It’s a federal program.

J.: What’s the aim of the program?
NR: The students will learn about the land as it was used hundreds of years ago, and they will understand the flow of the waters from the creek system down to the ocean, and what the environment was like before there was a school there. They will also learn about the watershed system in the area, and how it’s connected to the bay and to activities in our daily lives and the water that we use.
And then there’s an environmental stewardship piece, in which students will decide on a project. They might decide that they would like to help protect the water or educate others or gather data about it, and they will engage in this project throughout the year. One of the really amazing components of the project is they’ll be able to connect Blackberry Creek to all the other ones in the area and the ocean. There will be some field trips, and the fifth-graders will take a biking field trip to see all the creeks and how they connect to the ocean.
Another part I love is that we will involve some young urban youth who will be mentored in environmental watershed education, and they will work with the kids as well. They will get to be assistants and get hands-on experience in environmental education. Also, Thousand Oaks has a Spanish-speaking program, so the Spanish-speaking kids will learn about this, too. It’s a wonderful opportunity to expand Spanish-language science education.

J.: Is the work over or will you do more?
NR: The $50,000 is for the first year, but they usually fund for three cycles, so we hope we’ll receive funding for an additional two years so we can really systematically integrate this into the school in a larger way. I’m going to work on the evaluation of the project because I do this in my professional life.

J.: How does this work connect to your Jewish values?
NR: The values of being connected to our earth and honoring life that comes from the earth is part of Jewish tradition and is something that’s instilled in all children at Thousand Oaks using a humanitarian lens. I used to lead Jewish adventure trips to Costa Rica. I like to think there are seeds of Judaism that will be part of this project but applicable to all students of all cultures, but I think any Jewish student who participates can connect it to their Jewish roots.

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Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."