By Aliza Kawecki, SFI Lead Youth Instructor
Hiking on the upper property at DCC along the creek this fall, I turn around to face a group of ten middle-schoolers following me. They’re all smiling and chattering back and forth with each other and suddenly we hear a sound: “whe whe whe.”
The boy behind me looks up at and says with a puzzled face, “ What the heck is that sound?”
I know it’s familiar and just at the tip of my tongue and a quiet boy behind him says, “It’s a Red-breasted Nuthatch. My dad says it sounds like a truck backing up.” Seconds later the boy’s i.d. is confirmed when we see the reddish brown rump of a Red-breasted Nuthatch as it performs its acrobatical movements on the trunk of a Douglas fir.
I smile at the quiet boy. “ You’re totally right and there it is!”
The entire group falls silent as we watch the bird hop up and down spinning in circles. Then as if the nuthatch can sense us watching, it flies off and we continue down the trail. The first boy calls out from behind me, “ Man! I wish school was like this everyday.”
At this comment, my heart smiles. Hearing kids’ positive feedback reminds me how important the Youth Education Program is. We continue to a point where the trail splits, one half of the group heads to the geology sign with their teacher, the rest head down to the creek with me. I pick a leaf from a plant growing along the creek and fold it in half to release the scent. I pass it around for kids to smell. “What does it smell like?” I ask.
“ Mmmm. Like mint. Like spices. Like… I don’t really know.” I tell them how this leaf is used as a flavor in spaghetti sauce. “ One boy shouts, “ Oh yeah, my mom uses this. It grows at our house!”
We continue on into the lesson, which involves taking the temperature and pH of the creek in order to determine its health. Students wearing protective goggles hold their pH samples up to the light trying to judge the color. Everyone is involved in the process, as they are split into pairs so that everyone can experience collecting data.
We meet up with the other half of the group back at the split and one boy exclaims, “ We didn’t see the rock!”
I look at him and ask, “You mean the serpentine, it was everywhere how could you miss it?”
The boy replies, “ No, I mean the big chunk of it you showed us a picture of in class.”
I smile, realizing the boy expected to find the exact example I showed the class. I reply, “ Well I’m excited you were paying attention, but that picture was to show you a good example of what to look for. Did you find smaller pieces?”
“Oh yeah. I just wanted to find the big one. It looked pretty cool.”
Wanting to encourage him, I reply, “We’ll keep an eye out, you might find it somewhere else, now that you know what to look for.”
He nods and says,” Yeah I like rocks. I have a collection of them at my house. I’ll keep looking.”
This is just a little piece of the awesome season we had at the Siskiyou Field Institute in the Youth Education Program. I also had the pleasure of working with two fantastic instructors, Ellie Armstrong in the spring and Jess Kelleher in the fall. This spring we offered a program called “Songbirds, Science and Outdoor Schools,” where students learn about local songbird populations. We taught this program in partnership with the Klamath Bird Observatory and had the pleasure of working with Jeanine Moy, who works for KBO. We received lots of positive feedback from teachers on the overnight program serving nine schools in Southern Oregon. I look forward to offering it again in the spring of 2013.
In partnership with the Oregon Caves, we also offered a two-day field trip to both DCC and Oregon Caves. Students collected data in creeks at both sites to assess the health of the watershed. This program ran in the spring and fall this season and is free of charge to students, thanks to grant funding! We are excited to offer this again in the spring of 2013 and have a long list of teachers interested in participating.
Two new classes were implemented this season, “Memorable Mammals” and “Geobotany.” “Memorable Mammals” was offered to third-grade students, teaching them about the characteristics of mammals and how to track them. “Geobotany” took middle school students up into the Darlingtonia fen to learn about them up close and personal. This spring, we were able to accommodate a group of 80 from Portland for this program!
During the summer we offered two middle school single-gender wilderness day camps. While these were a lot of fun, we hope to increase enrollment next year by offering an overnight camp so that parents will not have the added expense of driving back and forth each day, and so we can increase the wilderness camp experience for participating kids. We also plan to expand programming to offer three-day, single-gender backpacking trips next summer and hope to be able to provide gear to teens in need, through donations and grant funding!
This fall we also have been participating in an afterschool program offering natural history and science-related activities to students in the local elementary school and middle school. This has allowed us to get to know some of the local students much better, as we have been seeing the same kids week after week!
Overall, it has been a very successful season and I look forward to coming back next February to continue the very important work Siskiyou Field Institute does in connecting youth to their local environment!