As students switch into academic gear this week, the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition are getting ready for their third year of outdoor education children's programs.
Starting in September, elementary school students from the South Shore can participate in field trips designed to teach students about the Lake Tahoe Basin while also getting them outside. And for the first time, the programs will take place in the fall instead of the spring.
For children in kindergarten through second grade, there's Outdoor Explore!, a program that explores flora and fauna near Nevada Beach. Third- and fourth-graders can participate in Children's Forest, which starts at the Tallac Historic Site and teaches students about trees and the cultural history of the area. There's also the Kokanee Salmon trips in October that take third-graders to Taylor Creek to watch salmon spawn.
And since all the programs meet California's content standards and are based on other educational programs, parents can be assured that their children aren't just romping in a field. The educational aspect is crucial, LTBMU conservation education assistant Megan Dee said.
"Knowledge of the local environment, engage them with the natural world. The idea, the mission, that STEEC is dedicated to is bringing high-quality education programs to Lake Tahoe youth," Dee said.
According to STEEC Coordinator Sarah Ford, the nonprofit coalition was founded in 2009 to unite South Shore agencies and organizations dedicated to environmental education. It provides planning and educator support to the LTBMU for the children's programs, she said.
"Programs like this are nonexistent in our education system. It's astounding how little kids who grow up here know about the area," Ford said.
Some of the students, even though they might be South Shore residents, had never been on the lake shore or picnicked in the forest before these trips, Ford said. Part of the goal is to teach students about the natural beauty in their neighborhood.
As the Science Outreach Coordinator with the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, Beth Quandt said she's happy to see programs like this fill voids that have opened due to budget cuts in the district. Last year, she estimated about 2,000 students went through STEEC and LTBMU's various programs.
"It's a wonderful way to get some hands-on science experience. Some of these kids won't have ever been close to the lake. It's an important way to get them to understand their environment," Quandt said.