School Children Get Chance to Explore and Learn About Science in Usal and Needle Rock Areas
Community feedback is enthusiastic about Humboldt Redwood Interpretive Association’s (HRIA) Sinkyone Wilderness – Usal Beach outdoor education Project. Local school children attend field trips to Usal Beach or Needle Rock at the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. The park is located on the coast in Northern Mendocino County. These trips are funded by grants from the California Coastal Conservancy Explore the Coast Grant and the California Coastal Commission Whale Tail License Plate Grant.
Children and families from Laytonville Elementary School and Spy Rock Elementary School; Leggett Valley School and Whale Gulch School; Round Valley Elementary/Middle School; and Beginnings Skyfish School in Briceland were able to participate.
The Cahto Tribe Education Department supported their students who went on Laytonville trips. The HRIA Usal Project staff are grateful to all of the teachers, the administrators and support staff (aides, food service, transportation departments, office personnel) who took on extra work so that students could participate. We thank the parent chaperones and drivers for their amazing work and care. We are also grateful to the students, especially those who gave us feedback on how we can improve our planning, presentation and communication with every trip.
The two-year grant programs provide each class with a half day classroom lesson prior to the trip, then a full day at the park. In one case, the program has been part of an overnight campout. HRIA project staff work closely with the teachers to integrate curriculum with teacher class plans. Children participate in experiential learning about watershed health, soil-forming processes and erosion, wave energy, cultural and natural history, controlled burn management of wildlands, animal, plant and fish identification, air quality, symbiotic relationships, life strategies and animal behavior.
HRIA Usal Beach Project staff emphasize how organisms interact with the environment, using various ecological strategies to meet life needs. Students are encouraged to examine their own life strategies and strategies of others, including the methods of science and traditional knowledge.
Over the past two years 177 students, 12 teachers and 42 parent/family chaperones shared in the experiential learning at Usal. Parents, teachers and students enthusiastically have requested that the program continue to develop an outdoor education classroom and adopt-a-beach program. HRIA staff are working with school administrators and teachers as well as other organizations to continue, expand and improve the program. Ranger Andrea Mapes serves as project liaison with California Department of Parks and Recreation and HRIA. The amount of partner support has been outstanding. We particularly thank Laytonville Unified School District Superintendent Joan Potter, who has served as the School Leadership for the Outdoor Education Project. Additionally, she and Stephen Turner, Mendocino County Office of Education, working with HRIA and Redwood Forest Foundation Incorporated (RFFI) have negotiated limited access to a road owned by RFFI. Our partner public school buses may use the RFFI road instead of the Mendocino County Usal Road for HRIA Usal field trips. This alternate route agreement reduces dependence on weather conditions, shortens transit time and improves student safety using hazard assessments and preparedness plans during transit. Presentations from RFFI staff, and fish biologists deepened the understanding of the students for ecological processes and the importance of environmental restoration on the RFFI Usal Redwood Forest land.