Sixth-graders learn about nature first-hand

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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It was back to nature for the Twelve Bridges Middle School sixth-graders on April 3, 4 and 5 as they spent three days learning about the outdoors. The students didn’t have to travel far from home to receive the outdoor education that is common for California sixth-graders to receive, said Twelve Bridges Middle School principal Stacey Brown. As part of the school’s outdoor education program, the sixth-graders traveled to the Lincoln High School farm off of Dowd Road and the district’s Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) property, which is off of Twelve Bridges Drive. This is the program’s third year, Brown said, and students previously went to outdoor education programs Woodleaf and Shady Creek for overnight trips. “It’s gotten so expensive. It used to be $250 a kid for these activities and now we do it for a $20 donation,” Brown said. “The good thing about Outdoor Learning Experience is 100 percent of our kids go. We would typically get half of the sixth-grade class to go because of the expense and now 100 percent go.” Brown said the students participate in activities including an oak woodlands study, etymology, water quality studies and a unit on the Native Americans who used to live onsite at the OLE property. The program runs with the help of all of the sixth-grade teachers at Twelve Bridges Middle School, art teacher Ray Gonzales, district elementary school teachers Thomas Toy and Bill Justice, and district high school teachers Dave Foxworthy and Mike Trueblood. Also “integral” to the program is former Lincoln High School natural history teacher Mark Fowler, according to Brown. “Mark Fowler is one of the board members on the Outdoor Learning Environment and he helps us coordinate our program,” Brown said. “He’s very integral. He coordinates a lot of presenters and has helped set up a lot of curriculum.” Brown said the Outdoor Learning Environment property was “deeded to the school district” when Twelve Bridges was developed. “It was an area that was considered wetlands to some degree and couldn’t be built on,” Brown said. “It was deeded to the school district as long as the district understood they could never build on it.” Toy, the general science teacher at Twelve Bridges Elementary School, taught the woodland vertebrae of the Lincoln area unit at the Outdoor Learning Environment. “What that means is it’s mostly animals with a backbone, and mostly, I hit on the snakes and furry critters, the warm-fuzzies and the not-so warm-fuzzies,” Toy said. “The kids get to learn about these really cool facts in their backyard. It’s good for them to know some of these animal characters in their area.” Toy listed a few benefits to keeping the outdoor learning experience close to home. “Their senses or observational skills are heightened and they become more aware,” Toy said. “It’s also giving the kids an identity. This is where they are from. They can identify with this area and know it.” Learning more about Lincoln’s natural environment, according to Toy, makes the kids “less likely to pollute and be a steward of this area.” “The best thing we can do as educators is to give them a sense that we need to nurture and take care of this place,” Toy said. Cameron Zimmerman, 11, experienced something new during Outdoor Learning Experience. “I used binoculars and watched birds, and I’ve never done that before,” Cameron said. “It’s a great opportunity.” Monica Bustamante, 11, said the experience was “important because you get learn about your environment and get outside more.” Morgan Faw, 12, looked at a cow skeleton. By doing that, Morgan “learned about how (dead animals) help the soil when they break down.” “I think it’s important we learn about the environment and to know more about our surroundings so we can teach it to other people,” Morgan said.