While standing on the curb in front of Heritage Primary Elementary School, sixth-grader Alejandra Medina swept a mixture of leaves, dirt and pieces of plastic toward fifth-grader Pedro Velaquez, who held a dust pan.
The students were cleaning the streets on Tuesday afternoon in honor of the 39th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. The students also learned about how trash and debris in the street flows into the storm drains and goes directly into the Mokelumne River.
“It’s pretty bad stuff. People are littering. I never knew how dirty the world is,” Velaquez said.
The focus on the debris in the street is an effort to reconnect children to the environment and give them an alternative to gang activity on the Eastside, said Kathy Grant, the city’s watershed education coordinator.
After a rash of gang violence in the area, community members, school leaders and the police held a meeting in August to discuss solutions.
Grant teamed up with Heritage Principal Maria Cervantes and sixth-grade teacher Janine Jacinto to create a program to expose students to the local water supply.
“They will better understand how they can respect the environment,” Cervantes said.
Two sixth-grade classes recently went on a tour with Lodi Lake Nature Area docents to learn about the park and the connection to the river, Grant said. Seven students also volunteered during Lodi’s ninth annual Coastal Cleanup in September.
“Our students were horrified,” Cervantes said about the trash the kids found at the cleanup. “They never realized how much garbage people throw away.”
On Tuesday, kindergarten through sixth-grade students in the afterschool program all helped sweep and clean either the curbs and gutters or the school’s campus. The goal is to show children all of the debris that makes it into the nearby river, Grant said.
While holding a broom inside the cafeteria, fifth-grader Deziree Alarcon said she was ready to start working.
“It will actually be clean for once,” she said.
Fifth-grader Andrea Vega bounced around while waiting to go outside.
“I’m excited because we are cleaning the water, and I like drinking clean water,” Vega said.
Grant plans to take the seven students who volunteered at the Coastal Cleanup on a boat trip to the Bay Area, where they will be able to see exactly where the Mokelumne’s water flows. She received a $4,000 grant from the East Bay Municipal Utility District to fund education activities like the boat trip.
Fifth-graders Jose Nieves and Moises Luciano plan to clean up the environment even after Tuesday. Luciano already cleans up his front yard twice a week.
“It’s a good thing we are doing this,” Nieves said.