Slough Science Increases Students’ Understanding of Watersheds, Oceans and Marine Ecosystems

Recently, Mount Madonna School (MMS) fifth and ninth grade students visited the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Watsonville, to learn more about its ecosystem, local watersheds and to conduct plankton and benthic labs.

Fifth grade students are studying great white sharks as the focus of an in-depth class environmental project. Ninth grade students are learning about the marine ecosystems of their local oceans and watersheds.

“This field trip fits into the fifth grade environmental curriculum because whatever happens on land affects the slough and the slough feeds into the ocean,” said fifth grade teacher Jessica Cambell. “Pollutants and other run-off, such as plastics, enter from the watershed and affect life in the slough, and this, in turn, affects the health of the sharks in the bay. The main purpose of our visit to Elkhorn Slough is for fifth grade students to gain a greater understanding of how our watershed works and all of the interrelated pieces influencing the health of the Monterey Bay and our oceans.”

Ninth grade students at take a year-long course in marine biology taught by science teacher Nicole Silva. That course culminates in the spring with a five-day learning journey for the students to Catalina Island.

As part of their hands-on lessons, students gathered data on water temperature, turbidity, ph, salinity and speed, and wind speed and direction, and air temperature.

“Our ninth grade students are studying marine ecosystems and biotic and abiotic factors of their local ocean and watersheds,” commented Silva. “Being able to visit Elkhorn Slough and use their microscopes to look at the phytoplankton and zooplankton and also do the water quality lab testing gives our students real hands-on knowledge of what we have been studying and why it is important.

“It is fun to do with our fifth grade buddies,” Silva continued, “because the older students get to be teachers and teach the fifth graders all that they have been studying in class so far. It is another excellent learning experience for them.”

Cambell agreed.

“By taking this trip together,” said Cambell, “the high school buddies allow the fifth grade students to explore concepts and experiments that otherwise would be too complex to manage alone.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.