Ballona Wetlands Education Program

End-of-Season Summary for 2013–2014

By Cindy Hardin, Director of Outdoor Education

spring-at-Ballona-2014

The 2013-2014 school year has come to a close and with it the end of tour season for Audubon’s Ballona Wetlands Education Program. One of my “closing duties” as Program Director is to compile both the number of tours and students that participated this year. In addition, every teacher that visits on a field trip is given an evaluation sheet to fill out.  After tour season concludes, I read every evaluation that was returned to me, via the self-addressed, stamped envelope that we provide. The feedback that is received is invaluable to keeping the program alive and vibrant. Of course, it’s wonderful to read the largely positive response to the field trips, but all suggestions for improvements and/or changes are taken seriously, and implemented the following year if feasible. I then create a summary sheet, which is distributed to all of our wonderful docent volunteers and reviewed at our annual volunteer thank you luncheon.

This year was one for the record books. The program did 56 tours in all, with visits from 33 different schools. Of the 56 tours, 21 were able to attend because of our bus scholarship program. The bus scholarships are a crucial and much appreciated component to the operation, and accounts for one of our most significant expenditures. Sadly, getting students out in the field is not currently a priority with the Los Angeles Unified School District, and funding for busses for field trips is all but non-existent.  As anyone who has been on hike can attest, telling people about nature pales in comparison to actually experiencing nature. Our bus scholarships enable underserved students to visit the wetlands, many of whom have never had the opportunity to see Great Blue Herons nesting or a Kingfisher diving for his lunch. As you can see by the following comments, the trip awakens an interest in using binoculars to view wildlife in many of our attendees.

In total we were visited by 2865 students; our biggest number in the past was in the neighborhood of 2300. In spite of these huge numbers, we continued to present a consistently excellent program, as is evidenced by the evaluations that were returned by participating teachers. This is a summary of what they had to say. The numbers in parentheses indicate how many teachers made the same comments.

Field Trip:

What would you tell another teacher who asked you what you did on this trip?

  • We learned about the importance of our local wetland/open space    (4)
  • We learned the history of wetlands
  • We learned about Native Americans (3)
  • We learned about native plants and animals (4)
  • We studied aquatic life under the microscope (5)
  • An informative and thoughtful trip
  • We did restoration
  • Explored/visited a wetland ecosystem (11)
  • Observed a wide variety of birds never seen before by students (4)
  • Learned new vocabulary
  • Hands-on learning-kids were naturalists for the day (2)
  • Gave our city kids a chance to see wildlife native to California
  • Two hours outdoors!

What interested your students the most about the trip?

  • Seeing the birds (14)
  • Binoculars (10)
  • Microscope Station (6)
  • Spotting Scopes (2)
  • Pulling ice plant (4) Several said that the students felt good knowing that they were helping the habitat
  • Observing all wildlife
  • Dead rabbit and pelican-this was from the same group-they were on carcass patrol!
  • All of it! The best trip ever! (2)
  • Being outdoors 

Was your tour guide helpful, knowledgeable and informative? Please comment.

  • Very knowledgeable and pleasant (8)
  • Shared excitement and enthusiasm (4)
  • Very helpful (4)
  • Patient/Kind (2)
  • Excellent people
  • Yes-also good at finding birds
  • Each group came back with the same knowledge/experience. Good consistency amongst staff
  • Grade appropriate
  • Absolutely fabulous 

What could be done to improve the field trip program?

  • Conduct an experiment to show how wetlands act like a sponge
  • More explicit binocular instruction
  • More explicit rundown of water sources/watershed and its importance to birds
  • More time at the microscope station (2)
  • Advise students to listen carefully to their surroundings
  • Less rushing-maybe only three stations
  • Nothing—it’s perfect; good as given; it was wonderful (11) 

Other comments:

  • Students went home and shared with their parents
  • Keeping the students active was great
  • Terrific trip/Great Job (2)
  • Can we go more than once a year? We love it!
  • And this in its entirety from a 28 year veteran teacher: “I have been on many trips, and this is the most carefully orchestrated and well run trip. The rotations are well timed and serve to acquaint the students with the wetlands as well as allow them to understand conservation and stewardship”.

Pre-site Materials

Did you use any of the pre-site materials that were provided, and if so, which ones?

  • Yes, especially the “Birds of Ballona” booklet (13)
  • Line drawings of Birds (3)
  • Crossword puzzle (3)
  • Word search (3) but more words in the word search! (1)
  • Ballona poster (2) 

How could the pre-site package be improved?

  • Ballona app to download (1)
  • Computer display-our students have IPads (2)-two teachers-same school
  • More info on the Tongva
  • Quiz about the material covered
  • Include reference resources
  • Student friendly map of wetlands showing water sources, salt and freshwater marsh areas

Pre-Site Visit

If applicable, please comment on the effectiveness of the classroom visit by our staff members prior to your trip.

  • Great “frontloading” covered location, history and preservation (4)
  • Fabulous; great way to understand where we were going (3)
  • Motivated students to see the wetlands in person/learn more (3)
  • Knowledgeable, patient presenter
  • Loved the realia (3) 

In what way(s) did the outreach stimulate your students’ interest in the wetlands/conservation?

  • Students asked why there are few wetlands left, and about the reduced size of Ballona
  • Encouraged students to advocate/protect the environment (4)
  • Students had a deeper understanding of the importance of habitat; excited to see wetlands (9) 

How could the pre-site classroom visit be improved?

  • More Tongva
  • More time for viewing artifacts/ask questions
  • Perfect as is (3)
  • A little shorter for third graders

As mentioned previously, the bus scholarship fund is one of our major expenditures. The cost of busses went up this year, and each one provided costs close to $400.00. In addition, the very popular “Birds of Ballona” booklets (the students’ first field guides!) cost around a dollar apiece, and we need to order a new set for the upcoming year. All donations made to the program go directly into a fund that is designated to provide these goods and services. Any amount is deeply appreciated, and all donors have the added bonus option to come down and follow a tour in order to see exactly how the monies are used, and witness our fabulous volunteers in action. We have over 35 individuals on our roster, and they all contribute their time and energy to showing local schoolchildren the wonders of nature and inspiring a whole new generation of environmental stewards. Without all of these volunteers, there would be no program. Therefore, I will close with a shout-out to all who gave their time to this extremely worthwhile endeavor:

A big thanks you to all who participated and made this year one of our best; it was certainly the busiest, ever. The volunteers are the program, and the program is terrific!

Oh, and don’t forget: Ballona Wetlands docent training for the 2014-2015 school year begins on Thursday, September 11th. We love to welcome new volunteers, and if you are interested please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or give me a call at 310-301-0050. Big thanks to Los Angeles Audubon for helping to make all of this possible!


Published Western Tanager Vol. 80 No. 6 July/August 2014