Austin Youth River Watch (AYRW) empowers underserved high school students through a nature-based, experiential, and service-oriented afterschool and summer program in environmental science. AYRW provides a safe place for teenagers to grow and gain confidence while experiencing outdoor adventures and learning to be active stewards of our planet. We are creating the next generation of environmental stewards while developing confident and successful young people.
Our students, the “River Watchers,” learn to collect, analyze, and publish water-quality data from 28 different freshwater sites along Austin-area waterways, in partnership with local agencies. In addition, they perform hands-on restoration projects with community partners that improve the ecological conditions of central Texas watersheds, and learn about many different STEM and environmental careers. Finally, River Watchers experience outdoor adventures throughout the year through activities like overnight campouts, hikes, fishing, and canoe trips. For most of the students, we have been providing them with first-time ever outdoor adventure experiences.
Our program is intentionally designed to be accessible to youth in underserved communities, who have less access to resources, especially quality outdoor or STEM programming. We serve about 135 students annually from 10 local public high schools, 9 in Austin ISD and 1 in Manor ISD. In order to retain this population and best serve their needs we provide: full transportation, often the #1 barrier for the underserved; healthy food, to alleviate nutrition access issues; and modest participation stipends, to better enable those who have to work afterschool to help support their household to be in our educational program.
Overall, AYRW programs provide positive, educational experiences where youth develop a deep appreciation for the natural world around them. River Watchers become local environmental heroes, gain leadership and collaborative skills in interdisciplinary settings, and have transformative experiences that they carry on with them for the rest of their lives.