Environmental education coalition hosts final field trip for STMS students | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Environmental education coalition hosts final field trip for STMS students

Submitted to the Tribune
Adilene Negrete, of the Forest Service, teaches students about fire prevention.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — As members of the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition put on its last outdoor field trip of the 2021-2022 school year for the sixth graders of South Tahoe Middle School this past Monday and Tuesday, June 13-14, many of them pushed aside thoughts of where funding would come from for similar programming next year.

Luckily, STEEC’s annual sixth grade program is relatively inexpensive to run because the students can walk to and from the spacious, wooded field trip location on South Tahoe Public Utility District land just minutes from the South Tahoe Middle School campus. The ability to run future excursions to other venues that require buses – which cost around $1,500 per field trip – currently hang in the balance, however.

At this past week’s program, educators from STEEC’s member organizations taught students about the importance of defensible space and prescribed burning, wetlands, forest health and biodiversity, water quality monitoring, and nature-based mindfulness. The five interactive lessons were hosted by the U.S. Forest Service, South Tahoe Public Utility District, Sugar Pine Foundation, The League to Save Lake Tahoe, and Barton Health’s Wellness Department, respectively.

Students enjoyed the rare opportunity to be outside for the whole school day as they rotated around the stations. The curriculum was very place-based and featured many hands-on activities.

With Adilene Negrete of the USFS, students learned many methods to help “fire-proof” their homes.

Lauren Benefield of STPUD taught about the importance of wetlands for watershed health and led the students in designing their own “wetland in a bottle” to test how well different natural, on-site materials filter water.

Students loved racing around to water sugar pine seedlings at the Sugar Pine Foundation’s station and learned the importance of restoring this declining native species to improve forest resilience and biodiversity.

The young scientists monitored water quality by testing dissolved oxygen and nitrogen with The League to Save Lake Tahoe.

Keith Tanenbaum, a Clinical Social Worker with Barton Health’s Wellness Department, joined the STEEC program for the first time. His Wilderness Mindfulness lesson was meant as a dose of “nature as medicine” wherein the youth were invited to fully use all their senses to engage with the environment as they wandered, reflected and journaled in the woods.

Students picked flowers, tasted wild onions, conducted science experiments, frolicked, pondered and learned a lot. They had positive reactions all around.

“This experience is just so refreshing, and nice to be outdoors,” gushed Isabella Mendiola.

When asked what he enjoyed about the day, Coda Fratres said, “I liked the fact that we were able to save some trees. It was fun learning about how to filter water using natural elements. It was also fun to learn about how to fireproof your house. My house is already fire proofed.”

Students of all ages thrive in these outdoor “classrooms without walls,” which is why STEEC aims to provide programming for all students in grades K-12 in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District every year.

Since 2008, STEEC – which is a collaborative network of more than 25 local non-profits, agencies and clubs – has partnered with the LTUSD to provide experiential environmental education field trips in various local outdoor settings. 

For many years, STEEC provided two field trips per grade – one in the fall and one in the spring – and LTUSD provided the buses. Especially since the COVID crisis, outside field trips and securing funding for buses has been increasingly problematic and classes have been fortunate if they get one outdoor educational experience per year.

STEEC managed to hold field trips for grades K-12 this school year, yet neither LTUSD nor STEEC has the nearly $15,000 required to provide transportation for the anticipated K-12 2022-2023 programs to run. STEEC has applied for grants from the City of South Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Douglas Rotary Club to fund transportation for next year’s trips.

Will the rising price of gas and the lack of school funding cripple our local youth’s ability to access high quality outdoor educational experiences?

“We are doing our best to secure funding for these programs, because we believe that these outdoor programs are not only critical for our youth’s educational enjoyment and success, but also for their mental health and development and for promoting environmental stewardship. The health of our community is directly linked to the health of our environment, and vice versa,” says Maria Mircheva, Executive Director of the Sugar Pine Foundation and grant writer for STEEC.

As one sixth grader stated last Tuesday, “It’s fun to be outside rather than in a classroom.”

Yes, indeed: as all witnessed, students had fun and their time outdoors was deeply enriching.  STEEC members are working hard to ensure that all of our youth are afforded the opportunity to engage with each other and Lake Tahoe’s stunning environment next school year as well.

Source: Sugar Pine Foundation

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