Youth + the South Platte River

Engage: El Laboratorio collaborated with South Platte River Advisory Youth (SPRAY) Council, Lincoln Hills Cares, Groundwork Denver, Wright Water Engineers, Colorado State University Access Center, Colorado Water Center, Adams County Stormwater Program, Metro Water Recovery, Colorado Stormwater Center at Colorado State University, Mile High Flood District, Barr Lake State Park, City & County of Denver Stormwater Education & Outreach, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State University Agricultural Water Quality Program, Colorado River Watch, Water Quality Improvement Fund, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Gateway Fund II of the Denver Foundation

Innovate: Through careful collaboration, youth and youth-serving organizations now have access to diverse real-world hands-on projects to help improve water quality in the South Platte River. Agencies and other organizations have a streamlined means of engaging underserved youth on behalf of the river.

Co-create: El Laboratorio worked with agencies and youth-serving organizations to co-design projects that would appeal to youth and help improve the river. Going forward the South Platte River Advisory Youth (SPRAY) Council will review new project proposals from agencies and maintain the community collaboration website.

An initial collaboration with Denver high school students

In 2019 a key kick-off to this larger effort, the Access Center at Colorado State University invited El Laboratorio to develop and teach an innovative hands-on, culturally-based curriculum focused on the South Platte River to Denver high school students in a summer program for students who would be first generation in their families to go to college. 

After spending most of the summer outside and along the river, meeting with STEM experts and community leaders, the students proposed and documented a youth council to bring youth together to work with decision makers on behalf of the Denver’s river. Two years latter such a council was convened and made recommendations for projects it felt would make a difference in restoring the river.

The 2019 Denver high school students proposed the creation of a youth advisory council to focus on the South Platte River and then decided that they would serve as the first such council.

CSU Youth River Festival
Working with youth and agency partners, El Laboratorio organized a river festival in 2019 that enabled dozens of diverse organizations to interact with families interested in the South Platte River and water issues in general. The festival was held along the South Platte in Denver’s Carpio Sanguinette Park, across the river from the National Western Center. This was the largest festival in a series of festivals originally developed by the CSU Water Sustainability Fellows.

El Laboratorio lead the planning for the 2019 CSU Youth River Festival, which was held along the South Platte River in Denver’s Carpio Sanguinette Park.

South Platte River Adventures Informal STEM Learning

Since 2020, El Laboratorio has developed South Platte River Adventures as informal STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning opportunities for families from Denver’s underserved communities. These families enthusiastically engage with the river and want a say in a healthier future for Denver’s only river. While most STEM learning opportunities are for youth and offered in school settings, our informal multi-generational STEM learning approach offers the advantage of reinforcing family structure while recognizing cultural identity. Families gain firsthand experience with the important ways that Denver residents can participate in monitoring and advocating for the health of Denver’s river and its corridor.

El Laboratorio has completed river adventures for these Denver neighborhoods: Elyria-Swansea, Globeville, and Sun Valley. More opportunities are needed to connect eager families with meaningful learning experiences and the river. Developing new River Adventures for—and with—families will expand knowledge and appreciation of this crucial community resource and help develop current and future river proponents. Please contact us to sponsor more river adventures.

SPRAY Youth Projects

In collaboration with the youth-serving nonprofit organization Lincoln Hills Cares, El Laboratorio has helped develop a series of summer youth programs that provided hands-on informal STEM learning opportunities that directly help improve water quality in the South Platte. In 2021 that work culminated in “Our River, Our Voices, Our Future: A Youth-to-Youth Guide to a healthier South Platte River.” That year also saw the reconvening of a South Platte River Youth Council, which heard pitches from various river agencies and selected project concepts to include in the youth-to-youth guide.

Starting in 2020, a series of summer youth programs provided hands-on informal STEM learning opportunities for Denver and Adams County youth interested in the South Platte River.

The following year, projects outlined in the guide were field piloted and evaluated for inclusion in the SPRAY Projects website.
In 2023 through the SPRAY Projects website, participation was open to youth from across the Denver metropolitan area.

“Our River, Our Voices, Our Future,” is the product of a 2021 convening of the South Platte River Advisory Youth Council.

Additional piloting of river projects in summer 2022 resulted the first SPRAY website for offering projects to interested youth-serving organizations and others from across the Denver metro area..

SPRAY youth use testing kits, such as these, to test water quality in the South Platte.