It was particularly bustling on the Coastal Trail at Half Moon Bay State Beach on a recent morning. There were pelicans, gulls, weasels, blackbirds, rabbits, frogs, Anna’s hummingbirds, white crowned sparrows and gold crowned sparrows. Not to mention dozens of Hatch Elementary School students — and snowy plovers. Since March 19, Hatch Elementary School students have been exploring their own backyard, which just so happens to be near an ocean.
Alongside presentations, assemblies and lessons in class, the field trip is part of the annual Oceans Week tradition. Running through tomorrow, it’s a special time for students to expand their proverbial sandbox and play and learn, thanks to a collaboration with schools, family volunteers, local experts and county support.
This year, Cabrillo Unified School District parent and San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Legislative Aide Deborah Hirst volunteered to coordinate the program.
“I took it on because I think it’s one of the best programs for opening children’s minds to the complexities of the ocean habitats,” Hirst said.
As part of the 10-day-long event, second graders started one of their days at the Half Moon Bay State Beach visitor center where they explored topographical maps and learned about different animals with California State Parks Ranger Nelle Lyons.
“Are these shark teeth?” a student asked, pointing to a pointy set of chompers on display.
“Yes, but remember not to touch,” an adult advised.
Margaret Goodale then led the students to the trail to walk to the beach.
“Happy bird watching!” a well-wisher called out as they departed.
Along the way, Goodale taught students and family volunteers about the hazards of hemlock and the diets of kestrels, animal nesting habitats and predators.
Unexpected discoveries awaited at the beach.
Logan Mendes enjoyed looking through driftwood and plants. He even found a buried treasure, of sorts. “I found a penny!” he cried out.
Evan Adam said that he and his classmates found many shells. “We buried them in our secret mansion,” he explained.
But the true stars of the show were just about invisible to the naked eye: “Snowy clovers” and “microscopes” became hot topics of discussion as the students moved out into the sand.
Goodale, who happens to be an expert in snowy plovers, helped students get up close and personal with the elusive shorebirds by inviting students to view them through telescopes.
“I got to see one!” Jose Arroyo said, excitedly.
“They’re so fat and chubby,” Kate Ramos observed.
“It’s because of all the feathers,” Zoe Allen suggested.
“It’s fun because there are a lot of birds,” said Dayana Garduño Ortiz. She said she’s a fan because they can fly and have lots of colors.
Lilli Whitemore agreed. “I learned the snowy plover males and females look different. One is dark, and the other is light,” she said.
Goodale said she was thrilled to have the students out to meet the little birds.
“Their whole situation is so delicate and tenuous, it’s great to have extra hands to help watch them,” Goodale said.
“(These students) are learning about their very own environment. It’s remarkable how much they have to learn, less than 100 yards from where we are,” first-grade teacher Monica Hart-Nolan said. “It’s especially important for our Coastside kids to learn about their very own neighborhood.”