KIC-NET Program Pioneers Partnership for Hyper-Local Urban Water Education

How many agencies does it take to connect youth to water in their neighborhood? In the case of Keep It Clean-Neighborhood Environmental Trios (KIC-NET), a program I work closely with, the answer is four.

Through this exciting initiative, made possible with funding from the EPA, Earth Force partners with Denver Public Works, Denver Public Schools, and Denver Parks and Recreation, to create KIC-NET, which aims to improve water quality in Denver by offering educational opportunities to schools located near parks with waterways.

In cooperation with Denver Public Works’ “Keep it Clean” campaign, Earth Force works with community partners and schools to help facilitate local urban water education. KIC educational programs engage students and youth as leaders within their communities by building their capacity to identify water quality issues in their community and take steps to solve those problems.

The two-year KIC-NET pilot aims to reach 750 youth by creating 10 outdoor service learning sites. Each Neighborhood Environmental Trio consists of a school, park and body of water all within a five-minute walk of each other.

At each of these sites, students will gain knowledge of science, math, history, and environmental issues, while gaining skills in leadership, problem solving and civic action. By following the Earth Force Process, students will also complete projects that benefit their community.

So why so many agencies? Through collaboration with multiple partners, KIC-NET is able to highlight these places as community resources. The program aims to improve use of recreation centers and stewardship of parks by connecting neighborhoods to their local parks and waterways. This model demonstrates that agencies can increase their impact through collaboration.

In the end, this means youth are able to get experiences that inspire them to become leaders, like the group of students at Centennial School. In the fall, we organized a before-school demonstration of the Public Works’ vacuum truck to show how trash is removed from sewers so it doesn’t end up in the river. Anne Heerdt, a partner with KIC-NET who facilitates after-school programming at the school, said that making that connection between trash on their playground and the river was an ‘aha’ moment for her students.

The hope is that KIC-NET continues to inspire many more ‘aha’ moments for youth and their communities.