School Grant Program Quenches Thirst for Water Education in Florida

A Florida water management district has made a substantial impact on students and educators with its grant program for the last 25 years

School Grant Program Quenches Thirst for Water Education in Florida

High school students analyze water samples they collected from Tampa Bay during a field study program with the Tampa Bay Watch.

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A water management district’s Splash! School Grant Program has benefited more than 60,000 students from 12 counties in the past 10 years.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District created the program to equip educators with freshwater education resources for K-12 public and charter schools.

The district, with offices in Brooksville, Tampa, Sarasota and Bartow, covers 10,000 square miles in all or part of 16 counties and serves a population of about 6 million. Its mission is to protect water resources, minimize flood risks and ensure that the public’s water needs are met.

Diverse activities

Grants can cover a wide range of activities. “There are so many choices listed on our website, but one of the most popular seems to be field trips,” says Katherine Munson, senior communications coordinator. On those trips, kids see their local waterways firsthand.

One popular activity is creating and observing a water conservation project right at the schools such as planting a garden using hydroponics. “One of the more unique activities was a puppet show written and created by students on the water cycle,” Munson says. “The students invited the parents to the production, and it was a big hit with them.”

The program is promoted through the district’s website and through social media. The district has an email list of 3,000 educators and science coordinators. Every year emails remind them about the grants available.

In big demand

Applications for grants run from July through September. Teachers apply online and work on applications during summer or shortly after the start of the school year in mid-August. Because so many applications are submitted, a lottery system is used to narrow the field. The selected projects are reviewed, and on average about 60 grants are awarded each year.

Grants provide up to $3,000 per project per school year (mid-August to mid-May). The grant money comes via funds from ad valorem tax dollars collected throughout the district’s 16 counties. School districts with larger populations get proportionately more grants.

Over the past 20 years, more than 2,040 grants have been awarded, totaling more than $4 million. Most teachers who apply are STEM educators, but the district also gets submissions from agriculture and English teachers.

Students use a school garden to learn about the water cycle, water conservation and Florida-Friendly Landscaping practices.
Students use a school garden to learn about the water cycle, water conservation and Florida-Friendly Landscaping practices.

Ideas and activities

Some activities eligible for grants include:

-Using a model to observe the water cycle process

-Writing a book or play following a water drop through the water cycle

-Inviting a guest presenter to lead students in a hands-on demonstration

-Going on field trips to explore a local freshwater or estuarine ecosystem

-Water-quality testing

Getting results

Educators applying for grants must complete an application that details how they will use the money and what items they will need.

Grant-funded projects require a pretest and post-test for the students. The district website provides some sample questions, but teachers are responsible for creating the tests, which measure how much the students have absorbed and learned.

Melissa Gulvin, the district’s communications manager, observes, “Teachers report the knowledge gain for their classes, which program-wide has averaged 32% over the past 10 years. The information from the testing also helps the district justify continuing the grant program.”

The students use what they learn to remind each other and family members about adopting more water-conserving responsible behaviors. Parents may receive flyers about the project their children are working on or can be part of an at-home activity. 

Says Munson, “One of the biggest comments we hear from the teachers is that this is the first time most of their students have visited their local waterway, even though here in Florida we are surrounded by water and wetlands.”   


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