Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Superhero teaches students about environmental awareness

(Originally published in the 11/25/15 edition)

   As you read this, a caped Avenger is touring Solano County promoting justice. She may not be Captain America or Iron Man, but her goals are just as noble.
   She is…Petrolia, the Used Oil Avenger!
   Petrolia, a life-sized recycled drop of used oil, is visiting classrooms across the county as part of the Suisun Marsh Watershed Program. In 2014, the cities of Solano received a CalRecycle Competitive Used Oil Grant, which promotes the importance of recycling used motor oil to protect the land and waterways. 
   However, Petrolia is not the only environmental superhero in Solano County. Since 2001, a giant bilge pad named Bilgee has been the mascot for the Lake Berryessa Watershed Partnership, which aims to keep engine fluids out of the lake since Berryessa is a primary drinking source for Solano County.
   “Berryessa’s always been a huge hit,” Marianne Butler, the environmental education program manager for the Solano Resource Conservation District, said. “We thought ‘Let’s see what we can do about getting a new character for Solano County since Bilgee’s up in Berryessa.” 
   As the story goes, Petrolia began life as a small oil droplet on the East Coast. After being involved in an oil spill on the Chesapeake Bay that killed thousands of sea birds, Petrolia was so aghast that she vowed to make a difference. She began encouraging people not to pour their oil down drains and educated them on how to recycle used oil. She met Bilgee at a superheroes conference, and with Bilgee’s devotion to Berryessa, he felt Petrolia would be a beneficial educator for Solano County.
   “He texted her about an open position in Solano County to talk to kids about keeping the storm drains clean,” Butler said.
   Students from across the county helped design Petrolia’s costume, which consists of a green cape, black high-heeled boots and a blue leotard with a multi-colored recycling symbol. They also helped brainstorm ideas for her introductory comic book.
   “This is a really meaningful experience for children to connect with a cartoon character,” Butler said. 
   The response from students upon seeing the character has been very positive.
   “They get this bright-eyed look on their faces with intrigue and interest,” Butler said. “She captures their attention. The reason we created her was to capture their attention and to really push home the importance of keeping storm drains clean.” 
   In December, Petrolia will be visiting 21 classrooms in schools that are partnered with the Suisun Marsh Watershed Program.  As fifth through seventh graders in Vallejo, Fairfield, Suisun City, Dixon and Rio Vista learn about the program, they will receive a visit from Petrolia. 
   “By the end of December, we will have had about 1,300 students go through the program,” Butler said.
  Additionally, the Used Oil Avenger will visit third graders in the spring as part of the Watershed Explorers Program. 
   “We bring the students to an outdoor open space to learn about their watershed,” Butler said. 
   As of now, Petrolia is scheduled to visit around 80 classrooms and 2,200 students in the spring. This will include Benicia third graders, who will be hiking from the Glen Cove Marina to the Benicia State Recreation Area. 
   “They’ll be doing different types of plant propagation,” Butler said. “Petrolia will then visit their classrooms after they participate in the program.”
   Butler hopes that students will become more educated on how they can be mindful of their own environment.
   “Our long-term goal is for students to become watershed stewards of the local resources in our county,” she said. “It’s really important for us that students go outside to visit the open spaces, and they form a connection to the spaces outside around their houses. That’s why we’re working now to bring students to their local parks.”
   Moreover, Butler sees Petrolia as a good way to get kids excited about protecting the Earth. 
   “We’re working to keep our streets and cities clean, and Petrolia is one avenue that takes us there,” she said.

   For more information on Petrolia or the Solano Resource Conservation District, visit or contact Jamie Solomon at (707) 678-1655 x 116.

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