“Keep Calm and Love Animals” – Lessons from the Field

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