COOS BAY – Hours before their graduation Friday, Marshfield High School's Master Watershed Stewards rolled up their sleeves for one last project.

Project supervisor Alexa Carleton said the students had to paint over curse words and ink marks scrawled on their outdoor classroom behind Blossom Gulch. Though they were disappointed, they pulled it off and had an event that Carleton called one of the most touching she has seen.

Though the Master Watershed Stewards has been around since 2012, the project they completed is only in its second year. Carleton said that the nine program students, all from Marshfield High School, completed projects alongside the Estuary Explorers, who range from first grade to fifth grade.

“The high school kids led science activities with the younger students, helping them paint and learn about science,” Clareton said. “We did everything together as a group, except the last couple weeks when we split into teams. All of them loved working with the little kids. I had no idea that would work out, and from my perspective, to be able to sit back and watch them be teachers was satisfying. For the little kids, the best thing you can do is hang with the bigger kids. That's what you live for.”

Over the course of just two afternoons, the nine program students worked with at least 40 children from the Estuary Explorers group, run by South Slough.

The stewards also learned about water quality, watersheds and what happens when it rains and there is fertilizer and pesticides in the ground. They tested water quality, observed spawning salmon and nesting cormorants and monitored amphibian populations.

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The program is run through the Coos Watershed Association and through a grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. It was started after Coos Bay schools went to a four-day week. With Friday open, program organizers looked for ways to engage with the community and its youth, which is how it came to offer the Friday program.

“I hope these kids get a sense of accomplishment from this because they worked really hard,” Carleton said. “Knowing they did something good for the community, painting this gazebo for people to learn about local plant species, is good. This space will get used by not just teachers, but hikers.”

Homemade T-shirts were handed out to students during the graduation ceremony with a slogan the students came up with themselves: “Not just an after school program — it's a second family.”

Carleton said the gazebo and wetland surrounding it has the potential to become a permanent outdoor classroom used by teachers at Blossom Gulch, though there is hesitation because the area is open to the public and also due to its proximity to the woods.

“We are hoping that by continuing to take care of this area,” Carleton said, “and making it clear that it's a student space, and that we are not deterred by graffiti, over time teachers and community members will take ownership of it.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 236, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.