Last week, a busload of 65 fourth graders, four teachers and two chaperones arrived from a Santa Ana elementary school at Willow staging area for an interpretive hike. Each school year, Laguna Canyon Foundation hosts 75 or so of these trips (depending on weather and red flag alerts), and thanks to the generous support of our grantors and donors, they’re offered at no cost to the students or schools.

The bus was buzzing with children’s laughter and squeals of excitement. It was a long drive and the students were ready to break free! After the logistics of chatting with the adults about trail safety and dividing the students into four groups, our trained and passionate field educators took them on an amazing journey, a hike to investigate: What is a Habitat and How is it Sustained?

The children learn that in this habitat all creatures have a “job:” movers, fertilizers, soil looseners, garbage decomposers, and population controllers.

Students may go through the “magic portal” (one of the caves) and become a scientist. Or, with their leader, they may ponder what it really means to be a scientist and come to find out that scientists don’t need a lab, goggles or a microscope. They just need their brain, an inquisitive spirit and a fertile area to research.

The cave at the entrance of Willow trail and the mysterious rock formations along Laurel Canyon provide that fertile ground that inspires visiting students to wonder about this wild land. These trails also allow our field instructors to use their naturalist expertise to turn any wildlife encounter on the trail into an exciting learning experience for the students. Fourth graders – like most children – want to see megafauna. “Will we see coyotes…lions…deer? Will we see snakes?” the children ask.

The field instructor explains what native animals live in this coastal sage scrub habitat and lets the students know that yes, sometimes we do see these animals, but we will surely see evidence of them because this is their habitat, their home. The children learn to use their scientific minds and alert senses to find that evidence: scat, tracks, nibbles off of branches, nests in high caves and under coast live oak trees.

The students walk along Laurel Canyon trail. The field instructor points out some scat. “Ewww,” the children say. Of course, they would, but as they look closer, in the scat they observe seeds and fur and the deductions begin.

“What is an animal that eats both plants and meat?” the field instructor asks.

Required in fourth grade is the study of living things, their structures and how they interact with their environments, so they know this answer: “Omnivore!” shout the students.

“What native animal lives here that is an omnivore?”

“A coyote?” ventures one student.

“Correct!” And with that answer, the educator can discuss several phenomena with the student-scientists in the wonderful laboratory of the wilderness. They can deduce that this scat is likely a coyote’s. Perhaps the coyote ate a bunny or a gopher as well as some plants. What jobs did the coyote perform? Clearly the coyote scat is moving seeds. What about population controlling?

Coyotes may be a rare sight in the park, but Field Instructor Chrisha Favors snapped these shots when this week’s class was lucky enough to see one.

As the children hike on, they might see gopher holes (soil looseners), a wood rat nest, a stink bug (decomposers) or snake tracks. Why are there no acorns on the oak tree? Why is it greener along the right side of the trail? Might water have flowed here? Students may hear the call of a raven as it chases away a red-tailed hawk – or is it the other way around? All these observations provoke questions and conversations about what creatures do to survive and how each of the plants and animals has a role in creating and sustaining habitats both big and small.

Through these conversations and inquiries, the students begin to understand that everything in this habitat is connected. This lesson is essential because it inspires students to develop a deeper understanding of the value of this natural wild place, and their important role in protecting it.

They are becoming our future environmentalists.

Nothing like planning for the upcoming school year to reflect on hard-earned accomplishments while pondering what’s ahead.

Wait, what…but it’s summer. Sweet, low-key summer!

Yes, it is July, but for several school districts, including Santa Ana, school starts again in just weeks – mid-August.

That means we at Laguna Canyon Foundation are already in the throes of budgeting, strategizing and planning for the students we’ll soon be bringing on wilderness hikes this coming school year.

Last year, Laguna Canyon Foundation hosted:

  • 76 hikes
  • with 4,506 participants
  • covering 169 miles of hiking

The participants are second through fifth graders, their teachers, and several parents. The hikes are out of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park’s Barbara’s Lake and Dilley and Willow Staging Areas, as well as Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

Laguna Canyon Foundation offers bus transportation, programs led by our trained field educators, and materials – all at no cost to schools or students. The curriculum covers such subjects as design in nature, adaptations, habitats big and small, the art of observation, and general fitness, all while emphasizing how each of us can be good stewards of the earth, whether in the wilderness or in our own neighborhoods.

But while facts and figures are always interesting to crunch and review, the most rewarding part of our yearly review is remembering the individual conversations we had with students, teachers and parents, and how a morning hike in the wilderness sparked their sense of wonder.

Students learn that one of the biggest “social” trails fragmenting the habitat and making it very difficult for animals to cross between the Santa Ana Mountains and the South Coast Wilderness is the very freeway they traveled on to come to the trailhead. They learn that while a snake can’t make all the holes along the trails they see, they can – and sometimes do – certainly come out of one. Why? Snakes are looking for their lunch. Students ponder, as they see the “No Dogs” sign, why their pet cannot come on the trail with them. Then an “a-ha moment” comes: a dog, after all, is a predator.

This past school year, Laguna Canyon Foundation brought students who typically might miss out on such an adventure: students who need ADA bathrooms or may not be able to hike the trails as their classmates can; students who may need one-on-one attention, such as those who are visually impaired. We prioritized accommodating the needs of each individual student, ensuring that every single child (and his/her parent) felt welcomed and had the confidence to learn and grow alongside their classmates.

Hats off to our wonderful field instructors, Alex, Audra, Cameron, Chrisha, Luma and Joanne, for the care, the knowledge and the enthusiasm they shared with each and every participant of our school program.

Student quotes from thank you notes and trailside wrap-ups:

“Thank you for taking your time to teach us about nature. I loved learning about the flowers. My favorites were the wild cucumber and the sticky monkey flower.” – Eli

“Keep calm and love animals.” – Fabian

“I love nature.” – Stephany

“If you take flowers, you might be taking an animal’s food or shelter.” – Omar

“I liked being outdoors, learning new stuff, being with my friends and hiking with our teacher.” – Janet

“The graham crackers were delicious, but I know human food isn’t good for wildlife.” – Adela

“Picking up trash like glass, is important. Hot days and trash could make a fire.” – Bailey

“I saw bunnies, one snake, animal ‘footsteps’ and a hawk’s nest. My favorite part was when we played camouflage.” – Navid

Thanks to Cameron and Chrisha for the pictures!

What’s ahead?

Laguna Canyon Foundation’s partnership with its Santa Ana Title One schools is unique. Our staff works closely with teachers to ensure our NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) curriculum syncs with what they are teaching in class. Our goal is to bring back each student in his/her second, third, fourth, and fifth grade years to develop future environmentalists.

Our local Laguna Beach schools are also a priority. Many Laguna Beach teachers have a passion for the wilderness and want their students to understand the gift we have with the wilderness “right outside our doors.” Hikes with local students involve fitness, yes, but also discussions on safe trail use and what each of us can do – pick up trash, not go on unauthorized trails, keep our dogs on dog-friendly trails, volunteer – to protect what we love.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum

These programs would not be possible without the generosity of our grantors and donors. This coming year, we hope to raise $150,000 to sustain our program. Whether you enjoy the trails frequently or admire them from afar, it is the open space that makes Laguna Beach so unique.

Decades ago, Lagunans fought to ensure that this wilderness would be here for generations to come. Laguna Canyon Foundation is leading the way to develop the newest generation of activists and environmentalists. Thank you to our wonderful community for all you’ve done.

Help us carry on. Donate today: www.lagunacanyon.org/donate

This week, we’re proud to present a guest blog from field educator Chrisha Favors. Thanks for sharing your experience, Chrisha!

“Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.” – John Muir

All my life, I’ve known I wanted to make a difference in this world. I realized early in life that I wanted to be an educator and make a difference through teaching subjects I am passionate about. I have a Bachelor’s in Education and taught music lessons for ten years prior to teaching environmental science. I love outdoor activities like hiking, biking, gardening, traveling, (re)connecting with nature, and studying environmental science and issues in my personal time. I’ve always wanted to share my passion for the outdoors with others, and teaching environmental science seemed like a perfect avenue to segue into.

I started teaching with Laguna Canyon Foundation last year after volunteering with some of their field instructors. LCF’s education program reaches out to Title 1 schools where a high percentage of the students that attend are from low-income families. More often than not, these are kids who don’t get the chance to explore the wilderness or see representation in the outdoors. While volunteering with their educators, I got a first-hand experience on how much diversity they were bringing into the outdoors and how important that mission meant to them (and me). I was in complete awe of their environmental science programs and I knew I needed to be a part of their mission. Not only do they support biodiversity in nature, but they also promote diversity in nature through their education programs.

I’m a firm believer in diversity, inclusion, and representation in the outdoors, and LCF fosters that in their education programs. We all deserve a chance to be closer to nature. We all deserve a chance to climb through an ancient cave, learn about local fauna and flora, to realize our relationship with nature and how much it provides for us. Our socioeconomic status should not determine the contact we have with nature, but unfortunately, sometimes it does. Most of the kids on our field trips are experiencing their first time in the wilderness. 

My first hike with LCF was at the Willow Staging area with a group of fourth graders. I remember the excitement for my first time leading a group of students through the wilderness. I must admit, I was a bit nervous as well! Eventually, the bus crept around the bend on Laguna Canyon Road and I heard the roar of bus exhaust pipes and chatter of eager kids. We gave our safety talk on the bus, marched the kids off the bus, put them into groups, and then headed out into the wilderness. The excitement from the students was palpable. You could see the pure joy they got from being outdoors in the coastal sage scrub habitat with the wild animals and plants. Seeing rabbits and lizards, and smelling white sage in the wild are spectacular moments for the kids! Those feelings of joy and connection in the outdoors are innate in us all, and we all need an opportunity to experience it to fully appreciate it.

We live a symbiotic relationship with nature, and teaching the young generation to be more aware of that fact is one of my key teachings. When out on the trails, I teach groups of students the NGSS standards, and in addition, I also teach the students to be future stewards of our planet (unbeknownst to the kiddos). I teach them to respect the Earth by picking up trash on the trails, admiring the creatures we see on the trail, appreciating biodiversity in the outdoors, and questioning them on why dogs aren’t allowed on the trails. We need more people who care about our planet and challenge our human practices. Our future is reliant on the youth, and I take pride in being able to teach them, spend time on the trails with them, cultivate a sense of (re)connection to nature, and play a small role in helping our future planet survive.

I’ve had such a great year teaching with LCF. Some of my favorite days are in the wilderness with the kiddos. We’ve enjoyed tidepooling days at Crystal Cove State Park, exploring caves at Willow in Laguna Coast Wilderness, field journaling at Dilley in Laguna Coast, butterfly garden walks at Aliso and Wood Canyon, and bird watching at Barbara’s Lake. 

As the year winds down and we finish teaching our last field trips, I’m reminded of why I do this type of work. I’m passionate about the outdoors, and teaching environmental science gives me the opportunity to share my love of the outdoors, especially with the youth. I’ve realized over the course of my career that the more passionate I am about a subject, the more it inspires my students. My passions have been an inspiration for my work, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to share and inspire through education.

On a recent education hike at James Dilley Preserve, Marco, a 5th grade student, impressed one of our Field Educators by arriving with his Field Journal from the prior year’s hike. In it, he had continued his observations and drawings about nature and the open space. This was something we encourage: be inquisitive; be creative; enjoy nature – wherever you are – and write down your thoughts, sketch what you see, and make notes on what you want to research.

Since 2006, Laguna Canyon Foundation has been partnering with several Santa Ana schools to bring second through fifth graders to the South Coast Wilderness. In the open space, a living classroom, students learn from a different angle, in the fresh air and among native flora and fauna.

 

Our partnerships have grown. In 2017, we expanded to 12 partner Title 1 elementary schools. Using NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) to ensure an informative and enjoyable outing for both students and teachers alike, Laguna Canyon Foundation tailors the hikes for each grade level:

Second Grade:          Art in Nature

Third Grade:              Adapting and Surviving

Fourth Grade:           Let’s Create a Habitat

Fifth Grade                The Power of Observation

There are several unique aspects of our education program.

  • Free of charge to the schools. Laguna Canyon Foundation hosts, at no cost to the schools, up to 85 school trips per year, serving more than 4,500 students. Through the generous donations of our supporters and grantors we are able to cover costs of busing, supplies and staff.
  • Students return each year. We are grateful for the commitment of the principals, teachers and parents who ensure the success of our program, which is designed so that each student – throughout their elementary school journey – may return from their second grade year through their fifth grade year. We build on the life sciences, growing and developing future environmentalists, conservationists and scientists.
  • Our education staff are trained field educators. Prior to leading a group of students, our field educators, already experienced naturalists in our canyon, repeatedly walk the specific trails we will be using for our hikes with the students. They know to point out certain plants on the trails…where a woodrat nest is…where a fossil is. While they can answer many, many of the students’ questions, they also know that they are scientists too, learning together alongside the students on each and every hike.
  • Each year, we “adapt.” With each outing as a new experience, we see ways to improve. We take input from our grantors, teachers, parents, students, field educators and volunteers to make each year better than the next.

As one teacher said, “Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education hike is often the only time my students get out in nature and, after experiencing it myself, I am grateful to see how seriously the field instructors take their responsibility. They make it really special for my kids.”

Learn more about our programs at lagunacanyon.org/education.

While participating in Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education program last week, a third grade class, hiking along the Lake Trail in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, could barely keep silent as they spotted a bunny. Their hands went up as they flexed their fingers, signaling that an animal was near. They knew to whisper and keep as quiet as they could, so as not to frighten the animal and allow their fellow students to observe. The bunny stood very still, almost impossible to see, for just moments, and then scurried off behind the bushes.

From September through June each year, at several staging areas in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education staff hosts up to 80 field trips for Title One elementary school students. With the support of grants and our generous donors, more than 4,500 students get the opportunity to explore and learn about our wonderful open spaces every year. These children have seen many inhabitants of the canyon, including rabbits, deer, snakes, gophers, lizards, roadrunners, coyotes, and raptors and other birds.

Last week’s bunny sighting was the perfect opportunity to learn about camouflage and adaptations. The students played a “Predator and Prey” game under the 133 bridge, having fun and learning about survival, before moving on to Barbara’s Lake. Along the way the students smelled white sage and learned about the importance of coast live oak to the survival of the Native American Acjahemen tribe.

At Barbara’s Lake, now dry, they learned about the drought and water conservation. Students were asked how each of us could save water. Seeing the parched lake, the concerned students had many suggestions: take shorter showers, don’t let the water run in the bathroom and kitchen, and use any leftover drinking water for plants and pets rather than just throwing it down the drain.

Tailored per grade level, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s programs teach students about art in nature, adaptations, geology, nutrition, and, of course, conservation and preservation. In the midst of a beautiful hike, children learn to pick up trash, stay on the trails and respect the animals’ home.

After pointing out to the class many plants along the trails, the educator asked, “What is a native plant?”

The attentive students thought for a bit, then one student, Samantha, raised her hand. “It’s a plant that belongs here.”

Indeed – and that is what Laguna Canyon Foundation’s South Coast Wilderness Education Program aims to instill: a sense of belonging. Each of us – along with the plants and animals of the canyon – belong here. This is all of our land to care for, share, and pass on to the next generation.

Thank you to our generous education supporters, including the Cultural Vision Fund and the AHE/CI Trust (both in memory of Elizabeth E. Fleming), the Annenberg Foundation, the Marisla Foundation, the Schlinger Foundation, and Marcia Tilker.

Interested in supporting the South Coast Wilderness Education Program? Donate today, or email us for more information.

Laguna Canyon Foundation is excited to announce that it has received a $50,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation to support the South Coast Wilderness Education Program. The SCWEP provides enriching opportunities for local students at underperforming schools to experience the wilderness in an increasingly urban world.

“We are honored to have been selected for this highly prestigious grant, and are thrilled to have secured funding for this year’s South Coast Wilderness Education Program,” said Hallie Jones, Executive Director of Laguna Canyon Foundation. “This grant will allow us to bring up to 5,000 students into the wilderness over the 2016-17 school year, instilling a love of the open space and fostering the next generation of environmental stewards.”

Many children growing up in some of Orange County’s urban communities rarely have a chance to be surrounded by nature. This is particularly true for students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools that receive Part A, Title I (“Title I”) federal financial assistance, which often lack the resources needed to organize extracurricular activities or field trips. LCF’s South Coast Wilderness Education Program focuses on partnering with these schools to provide free outdoor education field trips, including bus transportation. The program is an integral part of LCF’s core mission of preserving, protecting, enhancing and promoting the 22,000 acres of South Coast Wilderness located in Orange County, ensuring this wonderful community resource continues to provide a valuable refuge for urban dwellers seeking natural beauty and solitude.

About the Annenberg Foundation

The Annenberg Foundation is a family foundation that provides funding and support to nonprofit organizations in the United States and globally. Since 1989, it has generously funded programs in education and youth development; arts, culture and humanities; civic and community life; health and human services; and animal services and the environment. In addition, the Foundation and its Board of Directors are directly involved in the community with innovative projects that further its mission of advancing a better tomorrow through visionary leadership today. Among them are Annenberg Alchemy, Annenberg Learner, Annenberg Space for Photography, Explore, GroW@Annenberg and the Metabolic Studio. The Foundation encourages the development of effective ways to communicate by sharing ideas and knowledge.
end