Nature as the classroom – field trip offers new experience for local high school students

DSC_1547On a warm spring day 41 curious adolescents hiked hand-in-hand or were pushed in wheelchairs outside in the open air April 6 at Bear Yuba Land Trust’s Burton Homestead.

Students from Nevada Union High School’s Special Education Department and boys and girls basketball teams were learning, exploring and all smiles.

“I love to be outdoors,” said a boy named Chris, age 17.

This is the third consecutive year N.U.’s special education students have teamed up with the 49er Rotary Breakfast Club of Nevada City and Bear Yuba Land Trust’s Encounter Nature Program. It’s the first year students have visited BYLT’s Preserve and future nature center, Burton Homestead.

For many parents of children with special needs, the challenge of going outdoors to explore nature with their child is an obstacle. Parents want to keep their kids safe. There are fears of behavior issues or tripping hazards and the great unknown. As a result, kids often spend lots of time indoors in environments far from the natural world.

Teacher Tina Phillips sat nearby. She says the field trip to Bear Yuba Land Trust’s Burton Homestead is important because it provides a chance to be in nature, an experience that many young people like Chris would not have otherwise.

“I think it’s wonderful because these kids don’t have an opportunity to get out here,” she said.

Throughout the day, Earth Skills Educator Rick Berry from Four Elements Earth Education passed around preserved fox pelts, miscellaneous skulls and turtle shells. Lawrence Laughing from the Tsi Akim Maidu tribe told stories around a camp fire inside the bark house located on Indian land known as Pata Panaka. Farmers from Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Project passed around freshly pulled beets and carrots and talked about the inhabitants of healthy soil.

“I learned that worms have five hearts,” said Izaiah, 15. Proud of the red racer he caught, Izaiah shared a photo of the snake on his smart phone. His friend Natasha, 17, is new to the forest. She said her favorite part of the day was hanging out with friends and “checking out new things.”

BYLT is currently seeking grant funding to provide more outdoor enrichment experiences to underserved youth who do not have regular access to nature, as well as partnering with Sierra Streams Institute to deliver more science-based, hands-on outdoor programming for kids. On April 30, BYLT will host its first annual EcoKids with community partners, a nature festival for families featuring guided walks, plant identification, pond exploration and more.