The objective of our youth outreach program is many-faceted. By teaching our youth about the environment we are helping to educate the leaders and voters of tomorrow to ensure that they will have a solid foundation of knowledge about environmental processes and about how harming ecosystems can affect us as a whole. Everything is covered from how a tree grows to how a watershed works to which animals make their homes in our own backyard. Also, by teaching environmental education through art, music, and writing, students get to take part in imaginative activities that have otherwise been eliminated from curricula of our local schools, which gives our youth the opportunity to use their creative abilities to express their love of nature. Just as crucial is instilling a sense of community activism in our local youth through participation in volunteer day projects that clean up and restore the forests and watersheds, which all families in our valley rely upon for clean drinking water and tourism dollars that keep our local economy afloat.
Lifelong learning and passion for nature begins in the first five years. Education in the formative
years of life has been proven crucial by social scientists in forming the patterns and behaviors that, each child will maintain for a lifetime. Therefore, beginning at the preschool level is ideal to ensure an understanding of nature at the basic level. The local Montessori school teacher continues to be enthusiastic about working with SFK, because she has seen the positive responses and communications from children so many times in the past when Valerie comes to her school, dressed in a fairy costume, to do story time, interpretive dance, and art projects with her students. Valerie will continue to stimulate learning in these ways, and to encourage the families of the children to take part in litter clean-up days, co-organized by the Montessori school owner and Valerie, so the children and their families begin a positive life-long tradition of community service and caring for nature.
At the elementary school level, the focus is on exploration, art, and music. Children learn about various artists and the methods they employ to express a love for nature (oil painting, multi-media, watercolor, etc.) They are led on a nature walk through various landscapes (we have the river less than ¼ mile from campus, high desert landscape, trees, bushes, grasses, and wildlife, etc.). Afterward, children create their own art projects, which are displayed in the school and then taken home by the students, using supplies provided by Sequoia ForestKeeper. Woven into the art projects are lessons about forest ecosystems, watersheds, insects, birds, animals, etc. We also create songs about nature with the after school program, which has students of all ages, and the students perform the songs at an annual assembly for their fellow classmates and their families. Hopefully, we are able to secure the cooperation of the parents as escorts and guardians on the field trip, and then we will also organize a field trip to the sequoias for the students, since many of them have never been to visit the giant trees despite growing up less than an hour from these largest living things on earth.
At the middle school and high school levels, the focus switches to writing and science, teaching the mechanics of an ecosystem through hands-on learning. In English classes, students are exposed to the writings of Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey, John Muir, and more. Students are (hopefully) inspired by these famous nature writers and by nature itself when Valerie leads them in an exercise where they spend 10 minutes sitting quietly in nature, so they will be encouraged when they return to class to write about their impressions of the nature they experienced. The Environmental Science teacher at the Kern River Valley’s Woodrow Wallace Middle School Middle in Lake Isabella, Alison Bogart, was awarded the National Teachers Association’s Delta Ed/Frey-Neo/CPO Science Education Award for Inquiry-Based Science Teaching, dubbing her the top Middle School Science teacher in the nation for 2010. She is excited to work with SFK to develop an environmental stewardship project that her students can complete throughout the 2012 school year.
This year, we are expanding the Youth Outreach Program to include Bakersfield City School District’s Pauly Elementary School, which is in an extremely impoverished area with 100% of the students coming from families receiving government assistance. There are no trees in their neighborhood, and Valerie will work with the principal and teachers to get a tree planting project started, as well as try to secure funding for a field trip to bring the 4th grade class into the sequoias, so that they can see what that nearby nature looks like. Valerie has also been invited into two classrooms in Los Angeles County School District to give presentations about the sequoias, and could be asked to do more when those presentations are successful.