Above, Mermaid Maya speaks to children as a part of Mermaid Society SMTX's ongoing 'Mermaid Chats.' Photo courtesy of Mermaid Society SMTX
Mermaid Society SMTX provides youth eco programming
Since its inception in 2016, a core focus of Mermaid Society SMTX’s mission has been the development of community centered, water focused educational programming for the San Marcos community's youngest members.
Founder and Chief Creative Director July Moreno made it clear that Mermaid Society SMTX has big dreams for its programming and is determined that if it can imagine it, the organization can reach its goals.
After its inaugural year's events were a smashing success, Mermaid Society SMTX quickly established its Youth Education Programming Department with a mission to bring fun and engaging education about the river, springs, wildlife and community to the children of San Marcos.
Mermaid Society SMTX has two programs: Mermaid Chats, which is being held in all San Marcos Consolidated ISD elementary schools for students in kindergarten through second grade, and the S.P.L.A.S.H. Patch program — a self-led patch earning program for children in third through sixth grades.
The two programs are TEKS and STEAM curriculum adjacent, and provide a fun and accessible introductory level of information about the origin of the water in the San Marcos River and Springs to help students understand how this water is connected to the local water supply for recreation and drinking use. Students learn about the San Marcos Springs and River, the Edwards Aquifer, and several ways to care for water and wildlife. They also learn a bit of history about the diverse people who have lived in San Marcos throughout time and how they utilized this water to survive.
Plans are currently in progress to develop and grow programming to include those targeted for students in kindergarten through ninth grade, as well as after-school Mermaid Eco-Clubs, a Junior Ambassador Pod, a summer camp, and art focused programming. Mermaid Society SMTX’s youth art programming will exclusively focus on themes that foster and support sustainable art learning — Recycle, Reuse, Reinvent, Rethink, Repurpose and Reduce.
In the Summer of 2017, the organization’s 'Mermaid Chats' was launched as a pilot program. The chats were held twice monthly throughout the summer in varied locations throughout the city, including the Hays County Historic Courthouse, on the square during Art Squared, Meadows Center, and at the river itself. Mermaid Chats presentations given to students in kindergarten through second grade are a whimsical yet informative presentation taught by 'real' local mermaid superhero, Mermaid Maya, who gained students' attention, chatting with them about San Marcos’s unique riparian habitat and endangered species, as well as teaching them how they can help preserve and protect the San Marcos River and Springs.
In 2018, Mermaid Society SMTX continued a series of public Mermaid Chats presentations in the spring and summer of that year with newly created artwork and visual aids. The organization also expanded programming that year with the creation and launch of the S.P.L.A.S.H. Patch Program.
S.P.L.A.S.H. stands for Stewardship, Preservation, Local, Arts, Sustainability, Heritage. Students have a number of options for activities to complete related to each acronym letter. The selection of activities offered engage participating children not only in concepts of conservation and stewardship, but also the importance of support of local communities and arts.
The S.P.L.A.S.H. Patch Program was piloted with local area Girl Scouts of America troops. Mermaid Society SMTX later hosted two public patch earning events at The Meadows Center for Water and The Environment, where all activities needed to earn a patch could be completed in one half day. Amazingly, over 80 patches were earned in this inaugural year of the S.P.L.A.S.H. Patch programming.
Over the years, as word about the program spread, Mermaid Society has been invited to present 'Mermaid Chats' at various locations outside of San Marcos, including Camp El Ranchito as well as Patton Elementary in Austin.
Following approval from SMCISD, in Spring 2019, Mermaid Society SMTX was able to take the 'Mermaid Chats' program into all six of the SMCISD Elementary schools and present it to all Kindergarten through second grade classes. The S.P.L.A.S.H. Patch program also took off, with a patch earning day held on school campus for all Travis Elementary School third grade classes and a public S.P.L.A.S.H. Patch event again Meadows Center. Over 200 children earned their patches in 2019.
In Fall 2019, Mermaid Society SMTX was awarded a grant from Union Pacific in support of the work done with its youth programs.
During the COVID-19 shutdowns of 2020, the organization took the opportunity to refine, restructure and recreate both the 'Mermaid Chats' program as well as the S.P.L.A.S.H. Patch program, adding STEAM activities to the Patch Program and creating a teacher guide of TEKS alignment for the 'Mermaid Chats' Program.
“We have big dreams for this programming,” Moreno said. “We had to make the hard decision to cancel the festival in early spring (of 2020), which meant we would lose out on revenue the festival generates for our operational needs. We are grateful to our sponsors such as La Cima San Marcos, H-E-B and Union Pacific who helped us get through 2020 successfully. Due to this support we were able to pivot pretty quickly and create new goals focused entirely on completing the development of our youth eco programming. We are excited about the 2021-2022 school year.”
In 2020, Mermaid Society SMTX received a grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, in partnership with Meadows Center for Water and the Environment and Texas State University.
This grant has allowed expansion and further development of Mermaid Society SMTX’s educational curriculum, new and creative visual resources for the Mermaid Chats presentations, as well a video version of the programs in both English and Spanish to ensure accessibility of the program for children throughout San Marcos and Central Texas. New presentation boards and a beautiful backdrop featuring a serene underwater scene from the river have been created by Water PR. Local artist, Jen Netherton created adorable cartoon artwork of local endangered species: Characters like Sammy Blind Salamander, Frankie Fountain Darter and Wendy Wild Rice feature on stickers and flashcards given to Mermaid Chat participants delight and further serve to strengthen our students' awareness and sense of connection to our local wildlife.
Local graphic design company Mermaid Media created a placemat supporting and reinforcing themes of the programming that we will be making available to local family restaurants.
The revised S.P.L.A.S.H. Patch programming will be accessible online later this summer 2021; watch Mermaid Society SMTX’s website for more details.
During spring and summer of 2021, Mermaid Maya has already visited and presented Mermaid Chats for the students of Bonham Pre-K.
As this new school year approaches, Mermaid Maya is scheduled to present at every SMCISD elementary campus during October 2021. She will present the new Mermaid Chats program for all Kindergarten through Second Grade classes annually and plans to continue to present in the schools annually for the foreseeable future.
The S.P.L.A.S.H. Patch program has also been revamped and the next official patch earning season will begin January 2022. Children wanting to get a head-start on the upcoming patch earning season can begin participation this Fall during a soft launch of the new patch program.
As Mermaid Society SMTX's plans programming and growth for 2022 and beyond, it is developing Official Youth Eco Committee. Anyone who is interested in helping steer the future programming and develop exciting and fun activities to help kids learn about water conservation and San Marcos's local watershed please fill out a volunteer sign up form online at https://www.mermaidsocietysmtx.com/volunteer-sign-up. The generous grants received this past year have gone far in helping to develop programming, however, sponsorship is still needed to help Mermaid Society SMTX reach its future goals and continue to create eco-education that is both enriching and enchanting. Please contact Mermaid Society SMTX if you are interested in sponsoring any of our Youth Programming efforts.
Above, Mermaid Society was recently issued a proclamation by the City of San Marcos. Daily Record photo by Lance Winter
Zumwalt is Director of Mermaid Programming and Educational Programming Development for Mermaid Society SMTX. She serves as Mermaid Maya.