September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Is This a First: Young Female Teens Propose California Water Conservation Legislation?

Posted: Monday, August 28th, 2017

Meet the La Habra Water Guardians from the Optics of their Teacher Moderator, Dr. P.

by Susan M. Pritchard, Ph.D.

You have just won the 2016 Lexus Eco Challenge as one of four First Place Winners in the Middle School Category across the nation! Now, what are you going to do … go to Disneyland? No, not for four of the six La Habra Water Guardians, Disneyland is not in their future at this time. Although I think they would love a trip to Disneyland, (are you listening Mickey Mouse?), at this moment they are focused big time on one major thing … celebrating the passage of their proposed legislation: Assembly Bill 1343 Go Low Flow Water Conservation Partnership Bill and now promoting the enactment of this legislation.

Barely two years ago, six patriots from Washington Middle School in La Habra heeded my call for action. Organizing themselves into a powerful female team of young ladies self-named the Water Guardians, they plowed through two major competitions in the 2016 Lexus Eco Challenge to be victorious as National First Place Winners. Much hard work, long hours of STEM related research, experimenting, and writing, during after-school hours as well as during the weekends, earned them the huge recognition as First Place Winners, as well as cash prizes for college. For four of the original six Water Guardians, that was not enough.

When I first agreed to be their moderator, I asked these female patriots what I ask all of my students, “Are you in this for just the prize or will you continue to work hard in spite of how the competition ends?” These young ladies said it then and they continue to demonstrate it now, they are in it to make a difference for California … and making a difference they are.

The young legislature proposers, Angeline, Fiona, Jessica, and June, have never stopped since day one in August of 2015. While engaging support for their Water Conservation Master Plan, the Water Guardians also laid the ground work for their legislative proposal by speaking around the state to various organizations, beginning with one-on-one meetings in my classroom lab. These meetings were an inspiration from my experiences as a teacher member of the California Council on Science and Technology’s California Teachers Advisory Council (CCST’s CalTAC) where I learned first-hand the power of networking throughout the state.

As I stated to M. Daniel Decillis, a CCST author, in April of 2016, CalTAC is all about making connections between the classroom and the world of public and education policy. I served on CalTAC from 2007-2011 and was blessed with a variety of experiences which have made a positive difference in my teaching and classroom experiences. When I was selected for CalTAC I was encouraged to connect with my state representative. The relationship I developed with the office of [then] Assembly Member Bob Huff and his director Tim Shaw enabled us to get the Water Guardians the attention they deserved. The connections and relationships I built as a CalTAC member have directly contributed to the avalanche of support that this team has found. It is a terrific example of how reaching out can make a huge difference, and that first snowball of the avalanche was Councilman Tim Shaw.

What began with a strong presentation about Water Conservation to Tim Shaw, lead to many more presentations both in my classroom lab as well as at local organizations. With the guidance of an amazing benefactor, Mr. Jim Byerrum, and a fabulous duo of strategists, Ms. Monica Valencia and Mr. Adan Ortega, the Water Guardians began a long and exciting journey focused on spreading the power of Water Conservation in California.

After receiving the blessings of the La Habra School Board and superintendent, the team wowed the City Council, Rotary Club, Lions Club, Metropolitan Water District (MWD) Water Quality Control Board, Assistant Manager of the MWD, the Whittier League of Women Voters, Assemblyperson Cristina Garcia and her F.I.G.S. (Fellows in Government Students), Cal Poly Pomona School of Engineering, and most recently, Assemblyman Phillip Chen and his staff. It was this most recent networking that has gained the team the greatest traction towards their goal of Water Conservation Legislation.

Each step taken by the team had various results. Not all results were what the team had hoped but they accepted early and practiced often my long-learned adage … take a NO and change it into a MAYBE or a YES through compromise! The team took this motto to heart, and as their teacher, I had to remind myself often of my own words … compromise for a YES!

As their moderator, I vowed to work as hard as they would, so when a well-planned after school meeting with another legislature’s team of representatives left us hoping for more than a MAYBE, the team and I graciously thanked them for their time and attentiveness, showed them the wonderful drought-resistant garden that the Water Guardians researched, designed, and financed through donations, and vowed to find a way to make a MAYBE into a YES! During this time period, the girls were still writing their proposal in legislative language, so after the meeting, we strategized a bit on where to focus our energies, left each of them with their important proposed tasks, and planned our next meeting.

That was the day I truly had to remind myself of how to make a MAYBE INTO A YES! The girls’ ideas had been accepted with open arms and visible excitement. It was not the content but the timing which became the issue. Understandably, and we all learned this often during the past two years, timing is everything when it comes to legislation. What we had hoped to be a golden opportunity became a great learning opportunity. I was determined that our latest meeting was not to be our last, at least if a teacher, me, speaking her mind, could make any kind of headway.

Not wanting to disappoint the Water Guardians, with all of the time and effort they had been and continued to put forth, I decided to take a chance and write my heartfelt plea to our local Assemblyperson Phillip Chen’s offices in both Brea and Sacramento. I wrote from my soul, explained the Water Guardian’s passion and commitment, and asked for a consideration to be made for their proposal.

Nearly a week passed when an amazing email arrived in my inbox. I may have leaped higher than when I read the 2016 Lexus announcement of the girls winning First Place. It is an email I will never forget because it was from Assemblyman Phillip Chen’s office stating that they were not only interested but had researched the viability of the proposal with local water companies and had decided to put forth a place-holder bill prior to the February deadline for this year’s legislative actions. I remember being beyond excited when I shared the news with the team as well as their many supporters. We had opened the door an inch, and it was now up to lots of hard work and untiring effort to push the door fully open and let in the victory for California’s future.

Work on the proposal went into a frenzy mode of back and forth writings; guiding suggestions from the Water Guardians’ mentors, Jim, Monica and Adan; and eventually first-hand testimony in Sacramento by two of the four Water Guardians. The face-to-face testimony from Jessica and Fiona in front of the Assembly Education Committee was the culmination of weeks of hard work and never-giving up attitudes. We had a YES and the Water Guardians were working diligently with Assemblyman Chen and his staff to keep the momentum going.

On April 21st of this year, just days after the first testimonials to the Assembly Education Committee, Assemblyman Phillip Chen and his assistant Ms. Choi, met in my classroom with the Water Guardians. With two board members, Mrs. Ida McMurray and Mr. John Dobson, our superintendent Dr. Joanne Culverhouse, and our principal Dr. Mario Carlos, the Water Guardian powerful team of four young ladies shared their passion and family history with the assemblyman and he did the same with the girls. The conversation was both lively and meaningful.

The best of all possible endings to a fascinating and memorable meeting was the repeated support from Phillip Chen for the girls, their proposal, and his dedication to getting it passed in both the Assembly and the Senate. Many people know where they were when times in history are emblazed in their memories. I can tell you where I sat, stood, and all that was said during that momentous meeting of the minds in my classroom…It is not often a teacher witnesses such grace and passion among her students and a member of our state legislature. I am privileged to have witnessed that and will never forget it.

The energy level never diminished. The girls and I worked long hours, again with the much-appreciated guidance of the previously mentioned mentors, and wrote letters of support to both the Assembly and eventually the Senate. The Water Guardians developed their “elevator talks” so as to be best prepared when any opportunity rose where they could share their passion for water conservation. Constant practice of their testimonials kept them all sharp and on target for whatever committee meeting their presence may be needed.

As their moderator, I can tell you that the young girls I first worked with in 2015 have grown and matured into amazing young ladies. Their poise and personalities have blossomed into confident Ambassadors of Water Conservation for the great state of California, and I could not be more proud or privileged. My heart fills with joy thinking of the potential that is open to these young ladies because they stepped forward, are staying focused and dedicated and are speaking from their own personal passion for the future of California.

AB 1343 passed the Assembly, after successfully passing through a second Assembly Committee, the Toxic Waste, and Safety Committee, on May 4th. Thus the bill passed to the Senate with all Aye’s and nary a No … amazing.

Work continued and the girls shifted gears to be ready for testifying at Senate Committees in June. Much to all of our delight the bill passed through BOTH Senate Committees with all Aye votes and was passed on with a recommendation to be placed on the Consent Calendar. Since the bill received all positive responses, and zero “No’s,” it was placed for a vote in the Senate. The dates for the readings of AB 1343 in the Senate took place in early July, and the team and I witnessed the next big milestone to what would become a historic moment in our state legislature that will permanently improve California’s water supply for the future.

You see, this bill encourages collaboration between water companies and school districts. Water districts lend their water conservation expertise to school districts. In turn, school districts develop and disseminate water conservation curriculum to their students, our future generations of Californians. Additionally, water companies make known the rebates available for school districts to replace their high-flow devices, such as toilets, with low-flow fixtures. Since nearly 67.3% of California’s K-12 schools have toilets using five gallons per flush (5 gpf), replacing all of these high-flow toilets alone, with 1.6 gpf toilets, or lower, will save the state of California over 20 million gallons of water … per day!

It is not often that any teacher has the privilege of working with such diligent students as the Water Guardians. It is also not often any teacher has the privilege of working closely with so many members of the community, both locally and statewide, who share the common passion for our future in California. I am humbled by the work the La Habra Water Guardians have done and will continue to accomplish. Their work is never over, they will continue to promote Water Conservation because our thirsty state is a drought waiting to happen … and because of the diligent efforts of the Water Guardians, the state’s thirst will be more easily quenched in part, due to the conservation efforts being done today.

Once read three times in the Senate and voted, AB 1343 passed the Senate with all YES votes. This historic positive passage through both houses placed AB 1343 on Honorable Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature. On July 21, 2017, with the stroke of the governor’s pen, AB 1343 was signed into law.

This process has been an amazing journey of learning, diligence, determination, humility and the power of team effort with common passion and goals. I am so proud of the La Habra Water Guardians for their hard work and dedication. The bill they proposed and Assemblyperson Phillip Chen had the foresight to promote and support, is now part of history. Yes, AB 1343 is to the best of our knowledge and research, the first ever in the history of California to be a K-12 proposed piece of legislation that is now a law. I hope all who have been intimately involved will have the grand privilege of witnessing first-hand the Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr. promise the Water Guardians a full scholarship in any college in California of their choice. I hope that the CSU Systems’ and UC Systems’ chancellors take notice, offer the four Water Guardians a full scholarship NOW to attend any university in either of the systems. We need these young ladies to stay in California … let’s keep our future here!

Post script: I think it is only fitting to re-state that my work on CalTAC as both an active member for four years as well as an active alum is probably one of the most influential experiences of my professional career.

My first assignment was to reach out to either the senator or assemblyperson from my district. I asked for advice and was told to interview Senator Robert “Bob” Huff. As stated in the article, my visit to his Diamond Bar office and meeting with him and his Director Tim Shaw has made all of the difference in this journey with the Water Guardians.

I continued to network with Tim Shaw and he stayed connected to my classroom, even visiting it several times over the years to see what we were up to in terms of innovation and student centered learning in collaborative project based approaches.

When the Water Guardians decided to keep going no matter how well they did in the contest, I reached out to Tim Shaw and invited him to meet the team and listen to their presentation. Our hope was that he would help the girls schedule an appointment to speak to the City Council. He loved the team, was totally impressed by the girls … and I now call Tim Shaw our snow ball that started the avalanche of support. He brought the City Water Manager. They suggested I invite another council member, Tom Beamish, and he invited the OCMWD Division 9 director to meet the Water Guardians and hear their presentation. That lead to the team speaking to the City Council … and the people they had spoken to invited a president of a local Water Company, Mr. Byerrum. Mr. Byerrum helped the girls reach more connections, including speaking to the MWD Water Quality Control Board in July of last year.

One thing leads to another and it really all started back in 2007-08 when I first visited Senator Huff’s office and connected with Tim Shaw. The Tim Shaw “snowball” rolled down the hill of opportunities and the girls were willing to ride the avalanche and work hard to stay afloat and get this bill to reality.

The girls have committed to stay strong and work hard. The team and I believe their bill supports strongly Governor Brown’s vision for California with conservation as a daily way of life. We are all hopeful that the bill will be getting more traction as it is enacted throughout the state.

And what are the La Habra Water Guardians doing now that the bill is a law? Well, they have not gone to Disneyland yet, (Micky??) but they are hard at work creating a curriculum for their After School Water Guardian Conservation Clubs they want to support in our local schools. To learn more about the La Habra Water Guardians, go to www.drpstem.com

Dr. Susan Pritchard is a teacher at Washington Middle School in La Habra, California and is a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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