Trash Action: Students Cleanup Beach and Pajaro River Mouth

On Tuesday, Mount Madonna School (MMS) Pre/K, fifth and ninth grade students trekked quite far to reach the mouth of the Pajaro River. The group spent nearly two hours cleaning up along the river mouth and nearby beach, and collected 44 pounds of trash, including a tire and an old TV!    Sadly, along the way, they encountered numerous dead birds and 2 dead sea lions, one of which had become entangled in a rope — a vivid example of why keeping human-generated pollution of the river and ocean and off the beach is so essential! The many live birds students saw — including snowy plovers, pelicans and sand pipers – were impressive and put on quite a show.  

MMS fifth grade students are studying orcas (commonly known as killer whales) this year as their in-depth class environmental project. Tuesday’s cleanup activity was arranged in collaboration with the Save Our Shores (SOS) organization.  

Rachel Kippen, program manager of SOS, led the students on a guided tour along the river, with a brief visit to a private nature center located within the Pajaro Dunes Resort.  

Once they reached the river mouth and beach, students worked in teams to tally by classification (i.e. plastic bottle, can, cigarette butt) each item they picked up on a debris card provided by SOS. Later, recycling was separated from trash, and all the collected items were hauled away.   Project Background and Teaching Philosophy  

Joining the students at the beach was project mentor and MMS fifth grade teacher Jessica Cambell, along with high school science teacher Lisa Catterall and preschool/kindergarten teacher Hema Walker.  

Selecting a science-related topic and studying it in-depth is an integral part of the fifth grade curriculum, explained Cambell and is a great way to empower the kids to get involved in their local communities with issues that matter to them.   

‘The fifth grade is participating in this clean-up to positively impact the survival of the orcas and other marine life through improvements of their habitat,’ shared Cambell. ‘Debris on our beaches is a threat to marine life because it frequently ends up in the ocean where animals can mistake it as food, posing a threat of suffocation or strangulation. Cleaning up the beach not only removes the immediate threat of the trash but it removes the possibility of chemicals leaching into their habitat and supports the ecosystem in which they thrive.’   

While the orca project is a fifth grade class project, MMS has a comprehensive, mixed-grade buddy/mentoring program. Pre/K student are the ‘little buddies’ of the fifth graders, and the ninth grade students are the big buddies. Fifth and ninth grade students regularly collaborate around science and environmental learning.   


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing & Communications,   Photos by Hema Walker and Jessica Cambell
Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.