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Field trip inspires Magnet students to dive deep

Jack Barnwell
jbarnwell@tahoedailytribune.com
Lily Demus, a Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School fifth-grader, highlights some of the research her class did on the bat ray and other San Francisco Bay marine lifeforms following a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Jack Barnwell / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

A group of Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School fifth-graders, a field trip to San Francisco Bay Area marine facilities, and a lot of scavenged materials transformed a room into a walk-through version of the San Francisco Estuary.

Following a trip to San Francisco earlier this year, fifth-grade students rolled up their sleeves and dove into creating a walk-through model housed in a room of the magnet school.

Magnet School fifth-graders Lily Demus and Kiara Furrer said the field trip included a visit to the Marine Science Institute in San Francisco and a four-hour boat tour around the San Francisco Bay.

“We caught plankton and leopard sharks, bat rays and tested the water for density and salinity,” Demus said during a tour of the magnet school’s model estuary on June 4.

The room contained models of marine life, aquatic plants and the coastline from the mountains to city. Areas are broken up into different habitats, from the deep ocean to mudflats and coastal forests.

“We had to be creative in how to make the model and where to put it,” Furrer said.

Demus said building the model with her classmates was “challenging, but fun.”

“We didn’t know much about the subject at first, but after the field trip we had more knowledge about everything,” Demus said.

Fifth-graders conducted research on the models they built. Demus used the felt model of a bat ray – a black ray with bat-shaped fins – she and others made.

“We had to do research about their predators, their adaptation, food, habitat and their niche,” Demus said. “We had to do that in every environment.”

Another example was Demus’ project of the tubeworm, a marine species she said cleans up the bay floor.

“It’s considered one of the main vacuum cleaners of the bay,” Demus said.

Demus said the field trip and resulting assignment has its advantages.

“We think a lot of people in our class want to be scientists after this,” Demus said.

Principal Joel Dameral said the project exemplifies the magnet school’s mission as a pilot center for environmental science lessons that are passed on to other Lake Tahoe Unified School District elementary-level programs.

“One of the big things with the fifth-grade that they all look forward to is the big trip to San Francisco,” Dameral said.

It’s not all fun in the sun and on the water, he added.

“The focus is on the science,” Dameral said. The initial trip to the Marine Science Institute and subsequent boat trip provides most of the field trip’s information.

Students, families and volunteers raise funds all year to afford the field trip.

Dameral added the field trip acts as porthole to environments outside Lake Tahoe.

Most of the magnet school’s environmental science lessons, coordinated in large part by the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition, focuses on Lake Tahoe and the Truckee watershed.

“It’s so different from Tahoe because these kids have been so focused on Lake Tahoe,” Dameral said. “They’re looking at a different environment down at the ocean.”

With a focus on science, he said the additional exposure helps.

“A lot of these kids have never really seen this stuff but they’re actually out on the boat petting a bat ray that they netted and brought in,” Dameral said.

Students also become exposed to higher education on a trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science, a K-12 science museum and research center at University of California, Berkeley.

“They’re getting exposure to higher-level thinking,” Dameral said.


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