By Jenna Granger, Missy Mohler | Special to Moonshine Ink

So. Much. Screen. Time. Extra time with eyes glued to screens, not to mention living under the stress of a pandemic is taking its toll, especially on our students. We all know that right now our students have to be online to connect with family and friends, to continue their education, and to stay entertained, and that adds up to logging a lot of time in front of devices.

Our aim at Sierra Watershed Educational Partnerships (SWEP) is teaching our local students about the importance, availability, and power of our natural world. As we know, often the best solace is to breathe fresh air, look at trees and plants, and move our bodies. We are so fortunate here in Tahoe that we can literally walk out our door and find this, and the natural world is often the reason people live here in the first place.

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Despite all the chaos brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, SWEP continues to inspire and connect local students to the natural environment, and to create current and future environmental stewards.

When the pandemic hit in full force in April, SWEP pivoted its focus to what we call “snippets.” These virtual lessons align to teaching standards, have environmental and educational outreach, and always with activities that bring the students outside. Go
to 4swep.org to learn more about all our programs.

eye spy: A middle school student searches for microplastics washed up from Lake Tahoe.

With the unusual school year that is currently upon us, SWEP has continued to offer teachers and students specific hands-on virtual resources for typical SWEP programming, such as: Wonders of Watersheds, a watershed education program that combines environmental science and community service; Forest & Fire, in which students participate in a stewardship day that involves tree planting, forest quality monitoring, forest health, and orienteering; many interactive sustainability clubs, which are educational clubs that create a sense of civic responsibility and foster a school environment that emphasizes sustainability; and programs at Sagehen, an engaging field study research center where students have access to learning about the local forests, watersheds, and plants and animals that exist in our environment.

SWEP lives by the words “action fosters hope.” Unfortunately, it is too easy to get caught up in the depressing, overwhelming state our world is in today, and therefore feel stuck. We know that a connection to nature can fuel a powerful need to protect our environment, and during the pandemic we have seen that connection become a vital resource for our students’ sense of purpose.

We work with students to take action, first through education, and then through advocacy and/or stewardship. The combination of taking action and getting outside into nature is a significant path toward empowerment, and resetting mental states through nature’s natural healing abilities.

OWL ART: A student works on her project through SWEP’s programming at Sagehen, 2020 style. Courtesy photos

For example, our students were seeing trash piling up on our beaches and in our lake, and last year decided to take action. SWEP’s sustainability club students created a powerful art project titled Is This Your Trash? that is currently on display in the Boatworks Mall. This is one of the many examples for which students participate in advocacy.

SWEP’s wish during this pandemic is for all of us to remember to slow down enough to notice the budding pine tips, the wind ripples on the water, and the squirrels scrambling in the trees … and to remember that this natural world needs our stewardship and protection, and we all benefit from a connection to the environment.

SWEP is able to continue the hard work of educating and inspiring during these unprecedented times because of incredible support from local organizations like the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, partners like Excellence in Education, as well as generous donations from individual donors, such as Melanie Jackson, the Sperry Family, and of course many, many other partners, organizations and donors! The SWEP board, staff, students, teachers and the environment of our region thank you all!

~ Missy Mohler and Jenna Granger share a deep love for our Tahoe environment and community, as they both grew up in the Tahoe Basin. Missy has been the executive director of SWEP since 2010 while Jenna, a field instructor, began working for SWEP in 2019. SWEP is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization.

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