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Case Study: Keep It Clean Denver

Keep It Clean - Neighborhood Environmental Trios (KIC-NET)

Keep It Clean – Neighborhood Environmental Trios (KIC-NET) is a hyperlocal urban watershed education program facilitated by Earth Force. Earth Force works with communities to engage young people as active citizens who improve the environment and their communities now and in the future.

Keep It Clean: Case Study

The KIC-NET program launched in 2012 in partnership with Denver Public Works with funding from the EPA Urban Waters Small Grants Program. Other partners in Denver include Denver Parks and Recreation, Denver Public Schools and other watershed stakeholders. KIC-NET benefits all of its partners by meeting the city’s stormwater permit requirements, promoting city park stewardship, and offering tools to meet changing curriculum standards.

Youth participating in KIC-NET use the Earth Force Community Action and Problem-Solving Process to take actions that address environmental issues at their neighborhood KIC-NET site. Students are engaged as leaders in their community and often become long-term advocates and environmental citizens of the South Platte River urban watershed.

During the KIC-NET pilot from 2012 to 2014, over 750 students made more than 4,000 visits to 10 outdoor learning sites known as Neighborhood Environmental Trios, including:

  • Centennial ECE-8 at Berkeley Lake and Park
  • Place Bridge Academy at Cook Park on Cherry Creek
  • Greenlee Elementary at La Alma/Lincoln Park on Cherry Creek
  • Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy at Harvey Lake and Park
  • Math & Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) at Huston Lake and Park
  • Academy 360 at Elmendorf Park on Irondale Gulch
  • Cowell Elementary at Lakewood and Dry Gulches and Parks
  • Noel Community Arts School at Parkfield Lake and Park
  • Whittier K-8 at Globeville Landing Park on South Platte River

As part of the Community Action and Problem-Solving Process, students complete civic action projects that improve their neighborhood waters and parks. For example, students at Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy noticed a new green infrastructure system while doing water quality at Huston Lake Park. They went door to door, educating their community about the how the system worked to eliminate water pollutants and the role residents played in wastewater management. They created a brochure and delivered it, with bags for collecting dog waste, to neighborhood households, encouraging residents to pick up after their pets. Projects like this are presented at the KIC-NET Youth Summit.

The KIC-NET program is evaluated both quantitatively and qualitatively to ensure its effective application. “I think [our work] was important [because] we were changing the environment and where we are. This is our home and we should take care of it,” one of these students said.

During the pilot, students also reported:

  • 82% felt their water quality project made a difference
  • 73% better understood how their learning can be useful
  • 65% showed significant gains in characteristics of watershed stewardship, including environmental science knowledge, understanding of environmental issues, civic problem-solving and action skills, and sense of responsibility to their communities

KIC-NET educators are provided with an activity guide connected to educational standards that includes information about the history of their site as well as 32 place-based lessons linked to stormwater principles.

KIC-NET was awarded “Best New Program” as part of the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education’s 2014 Awards for Excellence in Environmental Education.

KIC-NET was designed to be a transferable model that can be used at other sites and in other municipalities.

Using additional EPA grant funding, KIC-NET will be expanding to 15 more schools in the Denver metro area, especially in Cherry Creek watershed. Four new schools have already signed on as part of this expansion, including:

  • Joe Shoemaker School (Denver Public Schools)
  • Tollgate Elementary (Aurora Public Schools)
  • American Academy at Castle Pines Charter (Douglas County Schools)
  • Sheridan High School (Sheridan School District 2)

KIC-NET is also being adopted by 10 schools in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande watershed.

KIC-NET helps meet the objectives of all its partners and therefore helps address several community needs. It has the potential to impact several of Denver’s major initiatives, such as:

  • The Denver Education Compact, which seeks to reduce the number of overweight or obese children, improve reading scores of third-graders, and increase the number of high schoolers who complete a postsecondary pathway program and obtain employment.
  • Denver’s 2020 Sustainability Goals, which include these goals for water quality: 1) Achieve and maintain 100% compliance with existing and future MS4 permit requirements and reduce storm water outfall E. coli dry weather discharges in priority S. Platte river basins under current permit to 126 cfu/100 ml. 2) Make all Denver rivers and creeks swimmable and fishable.
  • The North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative, which involves several major redevelopment and infrastructure projects taking place in what has been named the Corridor of Opportunity, including neighborhoods along the northern part of the South Platte River like Globeville.

Donny Roush, Earth Force,
Darren Mollendor, Denver Public Works,


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