Each year, the Coastside Land Trust’s Junior Land Stewards Program seeks to connect fourth- and fifth-grade students to the outdoor classroom and get them engaged and curious about their natural environment. Because of the pandemic, the nonprofit had to change the format this year and created the Virtual Environmental Science Program.
The new arrangement involves biweekly videos, which include lectures from local environmental experts and scientists. Since October, these videos, which can be found at coastsidelandtrust.org, have been played for classes at Farallone View, Hatch, El Granada and Kings Mountain elementary schools. While the program certainly looks different than in years past, its goal remains the same: to improve young Coastsiders’ environmental literacy and promote active stewardship.
After each lecture, high- schoolers enrolled in Joseph Centoni’s advanced placement environmental science class lead activities and reflections for participants watching online. The classes incorporate Next Generation Science Standards, a nationwide education baseline. The videos use a variety of sources, including naturalist John Muir Laws, local ornithologist Alvaro Jaramillo and the Felidae Conservation Fund. But equally important are the exercises students are encouraged to complete from their home and neighborhood.
“They’re not just watching something and then just writing a paper about it,” said program manager Kate Dickey. “We wanted them actually physically doing something to get to understand what they were doing.”
Each AP student was assigned to small groups to present various topics. Shea Wakasa, a junior from Moss Beach, covered a “Backyard Scavenger Hunt” in the program’s first video, which involved scientific observation and included a lecture from Laws. Wakasa showed students how to look for, among other things, something abiotic and biotic as well as seeds and some evidence of humans. She hopes the instructional videos motivate kids to take a break from their computers at home and learn outside.
“I think it’s a good idea and very important for them to all get outside and learn in a hands-on type of way,” Wakasa said. “A lot of them have been sitting at a computer all day. Whereas with something like this, they can actually engage in their own learning.”
For the Coastside Land Trust’s board and program managers, this kind of relationship between elementary and high school students is one of the main goals of the Junior Land Stewards.
“Part of the success of the original program was the synergy built between the younger kids and the high school kids,” said Barbara Lohman, the organization’s president.
“In my experience with high school students, they intrinsically want to give back to their community, but they don’t have a lot of ways to do that at their age,” said Lohman.
In the “Coastal Plant Habitats” video, the third in the series, Naomi Naito, a junior, detailed a “Wanted” plant poster, in which participants identified an invasive species on the coast. The worksheet involved noting its origin and threat, and describing and drawing the plant.
“Looking at it now,” she said, “I think it’s really cool to try to get kids that are younger outside and in touch with nature.”