High schoolers in YEP! Program work on flood readiness, climate resilience

January 3, 2024

High school students in our Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) program gather each fall and spring with a shared interest: taking local climate action. Some students join as seasoned members, back for a second or third time to YEP!, while others are new to climate issues and looking for a way to get meaningfully involved in our community. 

The nice thing about the youth-led, collaborative structure of YEP! is that there is no one “expert” on climate action — the group learns to draw on one another’s strengths, knowledge, and skills. Over the course of 10 weeks together, students designed and implemented an action project addressing this fall’s timely theme: flooding.

Students in Whatcom County (led by RE Sources) and Skagit County (led by North Cascades Institute) focused on flooding: both how we can manage rivers and ecosystems to mitigate floods, and how we can adapt to them as climate change is predicted to make flood events more frequent and damaging. Many students lived through the November 2021 Whatcom floods, and their personal experience impacted the projects they took on.

Early in the semester, the Skagit and Whatcom cohorts grouped up on two Saturdays to explore real-world flooding solutions and learn from the experts. On the Swinomish reservation, Jen Willup of the Swinomish the Department of Environmental Protection led students through a tour of the Swinomish rain garden. Afterwards, everyone chipped in to clear the space of litter and debris. Then the group explored Kukatali State Park and Preserve, learning about more Indigenous-led climate and flooding solutions. 

On our second field day along the Nooksack River, Deborah Johnson from Whatcom County River and Flood showed students a levee, teaching them about river management and communities that are most affected by flooding of the Nooksack. Molly Fay from Natural Systems Design supported students in applying their newfound knowledge to design resilient river models out of clay (and yes, it did result in elaborate ecosystem and world building, followed by catastrophic disasters).

After reflecting on all of the causes, impacts, and solutions related to flooding, YEP! Students kept returning to how some communities are affected much more acutely than others when rivers flood, and how river adaptation and mitigation strategies can address (or not address) this inequity. It comes at no surprise then that their action projects were centered around community!

Here are the actions they took:

Students teaching students: leading hands-on flooding mitigation lessons with elementary school students.

After learning about flooding, river management, and trying their hand at modeling flood-resilient rivers, the Whatcom cohort decided they wanted to teach the younger generation about flooding, and also get their hands dirty doing some local restoration. First, they organized a work party with Whatcom Land Trust on a rainy Saturday in October to dig out invasive blackberry roots covering over 400 square feet of a wetland restoration site along California Creek. Afterwards, they reached out to Wild Whatcom to propose a collaboration, and then set to work designing an educational lesson for their Neighborhood Nature afterschool program. Over the course of three days, YEP! led hands-on lessons to 45 elementary students, using clay to model various river systems and help the young Wild Whatcom students discover what an ecosystem resilient to flooding looks like.

Flood Preparation in Skagit County

These five students identified flood preparedness as the focus of their project, recognizing this as a key issue from the historic flood in November 2021. Using information provided by Skagit County, students created a brochure about flood preparation. Students then baked cookies and brownies using kitchen facilities at Burlington-Edison High School. Brochures were attached to baked goods, and each student passed these out to their community members and neighbors. Originally, the plan was to table at a community event and hand these out as a group. However, in response to threatening forecasts of an approaching atmospheric river, students pivoted their plan, fast-tracked their timeline, and got these brochures in the hands of community members prior to the major flooding of the Skagit River on December 5th and 6th , 2023.

We’re accepting YEP! applications from high school students (Whatcom County only this time) until February 5th, 2024 for our spring cohort. If you’re a local 9th-12th grade student, we encourage you to apply today!