Our Future Conservationists, Students lead by Emily Reed

By Cindy Hardin, Director of Outdoor Education

As most of you know, like any good non-profit organization, Los Angeles Audubon has a mission statement. It says:

“The mission of Los Angeles Audubon is to promote the enjoyment and protection of birds and other wildlife through recreation, education, conservation and restoration.”

Our chapter is very supportive of education efforts for all. Several of our programs are especially focused on individuals that are still in school, from Elementary to College level. These young people are the conservationists of the future, and vital to the success of our mission.

The Audubon Wetland Education Program at the Ballona Wetlands wrapped up its tour season in May. We conducted 50 tours during this school year, and were visited by over 2600 students. Many of these students come from underserved, deeply inner city areas. If they do have a chance to get outside, their immediate surroundings are often a sea of concrete and buildings. For some, this field trip is their first chance to see a gopher hole and its buck-toothed resident, or view a long-legged shorebird foraging in the mud flats. In addition to the actual trip, each class receives a visit from our docent team prior to their trip in order to prepare them for their visit. Students see a photo presentation about the wetlands, view realia (the stuffed Red-tailed Hawk is always a crowd-pleaser) and artifacts up close, and have ample opportunity to ask questions about the unique ecosystems found within Ballona. The trip to the wetlands serves to reinforce concepts presented during the school visit.
In spite (or perhaps because) of the fact that many of the visiting students have very little experience with the natural world, they respond enthusiastically and with wonder about wetlands. Our mission statement is put into practice and comes alive through these trips. The thank you letters that we often receive from the students tell us a lot about what impressed them and sparked their curiosity. What follows is what some of them had to say.

On restoration:

“I liked the place we helped by pulling the plants to help the Ballona Wetlands”.
–Alondra R., Age 8

“Picking weeds was really, really fun”.
–Valeria S., Age 9

One of our tour stops is the Restoration Station. The children spend 15 minutes removing invasive grasses that crowd out our native wildflowers. They love the idea that they are helping wildlife, and often ask if they can come back with their families to do more.

On education:

“I like the wetlands because you teach us plants. I like the way you showed us a bird through the telescope”. This letter was signed “Your little wetlands student”.
–Sebastian” Age 9

“Are you teaching more kids about the Ballona wetlands? My favorite part is that I saw a snail that sucks the water to clean the water” (we explain to the children that the California Horn Snail is a detritivore, and consumes decaying material in the tidal channels, helping to keep the water clean for other species). “Also, when I felt a plant I could feel the salt-that’s the plant the Native Americans used to get salt from”(we encourage the children to feel the blades of our native saltgrass).
–Karis, Age 9

“My favorite part was using the microscope. It was fun drawing the Horn Snail I saw through the microscope. … the Pickleweed did look like pickles”.
–Jade, Age 9

“We saw the mud where the food chain starts”.
–Jose, Age 9

The children are introduced to wetland ecology during the pre-site visit. Once at the marsh, hands-on activities and use of binoculars, microscopes and spotting scopes facilitate the experience of interactive learning.

On recreation:

“I liked the hike. It was so fun. …Thank you for inviting us and are you coming to the next hike? I hope you do so you can tell us about the animals”.
–Noah, Age 9

“You guys are the best in the world hikers”.
–Bernie, Age 8

“When we were walking there were a lot of holes and we found a lizard with no legs …thank you for paying for our bus. If you didn’t I wouldn’t be there”.
–Giovanny, Age 9

Getting to know and being outdoors is the first step in appreciating and valuing the natural world. Some of our young visitors have never been hiking before. If they are lucky, the children do run across the rarely seen Legless Lizard in their travels. Our bus scholarship program provided over 20 free busses this year.

On conservation:

“That was the first time I seen a hawk”.
–Noah, Age 9

“My favorite part was seeing the Great Blue Heron eat a fish and it ate a little crab”.
–Rachelle, Age 9

“I can’t believe I saw a dolphin … that is the best day I had”.
–Derek, Age 9

“My favorite part was when we used the binoculars … I saw a hawk flying in the air. It was fun using the binoculars because you see closer and the animals look bigger … It was the best day of my life”.
–Fabian, Age 9

“I wish we can meet another day in the wetlands like we did on the trip. We loved what you showed us …”
–Alondra, Age 8

It is difficult to convince people to value or want to preserve something with which they have no knowledge or familiarity. For many of these students, this is their first exposure to a wetland habitat. As you can see by these comments, they are quite taken by what they see, and eager to see and learn more. This type of introduction is the initial step in developing a mindset that fosters the preservation and conservation of natural habitat. The binoculars, essential tool of any birder, are always a hit. Hopefully, some of the students will in the future continue to show interest and participate in the natural world, and even become birders and members of an Audubon chapter.

Those of us who are directly involved in Audubon’s Wetland Education Program are extremely grateful for Los Angeles Audubon’s support of our efforts. Docent training for the 2015–2016 school year will commence on Thursday, September 10th. Please contact me if you are interested in joining in this worthwhile and rewarding project.

I will close with one more quote from one of our pint-sized wetlands enthusiasts, who said, upon taking a deep breath of the salty air as she got off the bus:

“It smells like the ocean is giving birth to the animals!”.


 

Western Tanager Vol. 81 No. 6 July August 2015 (PDF)

 

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