Adopt-A-Watershed Program


The Adopt-A-Watershed (AAW) Program is dedicated to inspiring students to become lifelong learners and watershed stewards who strive to create a healthy quality of life for current and future generations. Its goals are to:

  • Bring real life experience to school curriculum, making it relevant to students’ everyday lives
  • Engage students in meaningful projects that can truly make a difference in their community
  • Build bridges between schools and communities


AAW applies the project based learning (PBL) approach within the context of the school’s watershed.  It involves students applying their knowledge and skills over an extended period to address a real and relevant community need or issue and culminates with the students conducting a service or producing a product that addresses the issue.


A Living Laboratory:   The schools’ adopted watersheds and the communities within them are transformed into “living laboratories” in which to learn.   This laboratory becomes a place to bring curriculum to life by conducting projects that make valuable contributions to the community.  In the process, students acquire knowledge and skills, build relationships, solve problems, overcome obstacles, make decisions, and take action.

Multi- and Interdisciplinary Approach:   Teachers of multiple disciplines — biology, chemistry, ecology, social studies, and history, to name a few – independently or jointly use this living laboratory. Watersheds know no boundaries between disciplines and are therefore ideal places to conduct projects where classes come together to address a community issue.

Hands-On Curricula:   Curricula are used from the national AAW program and from other excellent programs such as Project WET, Project Wild and the TVA Water Quality Monitoring Network as well as created by local AAW supporting staff. Their implementation provides valuable baseline knowledge and skills needed by students to carry out their projects.

Authentic: Student projects meet genuine needs of the community. Teachers, students and community partners team up to devise projects that can make a valuable contribution to the community and its environment while also meeting curriculum requirements.

Sustained Inquiry: Projects are conducted over a series of lessons, providing needed knowledge and skills and allowing for ongoing research.

Public Product or Service:  The culmination of PBLs typically include students presenting their results to the community presentations, displays or reports.  This allows for feedback, providing students input on the value of their work and opportunities for improvement.

Reflection: Reflection is essential to the learning process and is integrated into each project. This is often in the form of project journals, structured discussions are/or student presentations. This allows students to internalize the significance of their project including its benefits and their contributions to it.


AAW was a nonprofit founded in 1989 in Haystack, California that promoted educational enhancement and environmental stewardship through the PBL approach. Its founder, Kim Stokely developed a set of curricula and trained AAW teams throughout the country in its implementation.  In 1997, Water Quality Forum (WQF) members attended its first national AAW training and returned to implement it that fall in five Knox County middle and high schools, adopting five local watersheds with one science teacher participating from each school.

Over the past 19 years, the Knox County AAW Program has expanded five-fold in the number of participating teachers, tripled in the number of involved schools and expanded into nine watersheds. AAW is conducted in public and private schools in Knox County.  It is also cross-curricular and continues to seek opportunities to conduct projects that involve multiple disciplines.


The growth of AAW in Knox County has, in large part, been possible through the work of the CAC AmeriCorps Water Quality Team. This six-member team is currently sponsored by the Knox County Stormwater Program and is trained to assist teachers in conducting quality PBLs.   All WQT members are college graduates, with the majority having studied in the sciences.  Each of these highly motivated individuals have made a conscious decision to dedicate a year of their lives to educating and involving citizens of Knox County in the protection and enhancement of their local watersheds.


Through the combined dedication of the AAW teachers, the AmeriCorps Team and its supporting WQF partners, the scope and depth of AAW projects have expanded in their depth, complexity, and scope since the program’s inception in 1997. Following are examples of types of projects that are conducted:

High scgreen-roof-buildinghool construction trades class learns about low-impact- development strategies and then build a shed with a functional “green roof.”







sdm-conveyance-photoMiddle school science students help to install UT stormwater demonstration project (“regenerative stormwater conveyance”).



quilt-gardenHigh school classes across disciplines create an outdoor classroom with walking trails, amphitheaters and gardens.




Ecology classes conduct a comprehensive watershed investigation, identifying reportable ifish-seiningssues such as chlorine leaks and high bacteria levels in streams.








The Knox County AAW Program is coordinated by the Tennessee Water Resources Research Center located at the University of Tennessee on behalf of the Knox County Stormwater Program and its supporting Water Quality Forum partners.  To learn more about AAW, contact Ruth Anne Hanahan at or at 865-974-9124.