Leadership Training in Action: The Nogales Water Festival

Back to Summer 2012 Newsletter

by Holly Thomas-Hillburn and Kerry Schwartz, WRRC APW

7 am: It’s early in the morning at Nogales High School and classes won’t begin for another hour, but on the practice field, students are hustling around, carrying teaching materials, setting up tables, and putting on nametags. There are only a few adults around, offering advice and direction, but it’s apparent that the students are in charge. It’s the day of the Nogales Water Festival, run almost entirely by the Nogales High School Science Club, with support from the Santa Fe Ranch Foundation.

Arizona Water Festivals rely on local partnerships. In the program’s twelve year history, 64 Arizona Water Festivals have been held in 23 different communities in Arizona, and in each city, the Water Festival takes on a character and life of its own. Partners, usually water providers, city governments, and school districts, work with the Water Resources Research Center’s Arizona Project WET to make this interactive learning event a reality for fourth grade students and teachers. Planning takes time, dedication, and plenty of communication between all partners (teachers, schools, volunteers, and sponsors). But what happens when our primary partner is a group of thirty high school students? In Nogales, Arizona, the enthusiasm and dedication of a group of high school students is inspiring partners and sustaining the water festival experience for hundreds of Nogales fourth graders.

The students, who were roped into the program in its first year by their high school principal and the science club advisor, mastered the lessons and became facilitators of learning for 4th grade students. They became invested in the festival and in the second year, approached Arizona Project WET about a repeat performance. Due to a loss of a local partner, the students took on the responsibilities of planning and coordination the festival. They worked with APW personnel to raise funds, contact teachers, and solicit the City of Nogales to provide shade tents, a water truck and portable toilets. With the support of APW and the Santa Fe Ranch Foundation, a local environmental non-profit, the students learned to plan and coordinate a community event, gaining leadership skills. Yet facilitating hands-on learning for their younger peers is where they really shone.

This year marked the third annual Nogales Water Festival, and the students who began participating in the water festival as freshman are now juniors. Students remember each lesson and choose what they will teach according to their strengths. The volunteer training helps them solidify science concepts they may have only recently learned and become effective communicators. Students apply their knowledge from environmental science, biology, earth science and engineering classes as we model how to use teaching tools to facilitate learning about the water cycle, groundwater, water conservation, and the watershed. After the training, they take home lesson scripts and practice until they feel confident in teaching without a script.

10 am: All around the field, fourth graders are laughing, learning, and vying for the attention of the high school students who are teaching them. Teenagers are becoming community leaders; growing up before our very eyes! Tony Sedgewick, President of the Santa Fe Ranch Foundation reflects on the day: “It is amazing to see how both the science club student teachers and the 4th graders connected with each other - It is criminal to have so much fun!”