Students test water samples at Lake Patagonia as part of the Healthy Water Education program authored by Kathleen Pasierb. Photo by David Clovesko-Wharton

Sixth graders at Patagonia Elementary School worked hard all year long on their studies, according to their teachers David Clovesko-Wharton and Deb Goff, and “We wanted to treat them to fun activities outside the classroom.” Clovesko-Wharton remembered taking his fourth graders to Patagonia Lake State Park to study the water quality of the lake. “My former students had a lot of fun learning how to measure water quality and at the same time felt like they were on a fun field trip to the State Park.”

Clovesko-Wharton contacted Kathleen Pasierb, science teacher and author of the program, to ask if the Healthy Water Education Program was still available for students. He blocked out several classroom hours over three days for pre-training led by Pasierb.

Students learned how to use science lab equipment properly and how to determine the quality of tap water by measuring pH, turbidity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen. They also practiced using microscopes by looking at a drop of water collected earlier that morning from the lake. Students discovered four different species of microscopic invertebrates ranging from miniscule, one half-millimeter sized animals like daphnia and ostracods to larger species such as dragonfly larvae.

The investigations included a ride on a pontoon boat out to the middle of the lake accompanied by state park volunteer and boat captain John Hughes and two Patagonia High School seniors, Karina Norton and Victor Barajas, both of whom have life guard credentials.

Pasierb guided the students by encouraging the students to work as a team, to use their prior training and knowledge to collaborate on the investigation and to discuss what the data had shown them about water quality. The data will be saved and compared to subsequent years of measurements from future sixth grade students.

The Healthy Water Education Program is available to Santa Cruz County students grades 4-12. Contact Pasierb at for more information.