PUSD sixth-graders study science, rafting and water safety on the Feather River during their Year of the Watershed lessons in the Outdoor Core curriculum. Photos submitted

Exciting PUSD science lessons combine rafting, water safety and fun

With so many wild and inviting waterways found throughout the stunning Feather River Watershed, safety is a top priority for local residents and visitors alike.

That’s a key reason why the Plumas Unified School District enjoys a unique partnership with Feather River College that is designed to keep school kids safe and knowledgeable when they’re having fun outdoors.

When it comes to water safety, this is the kind of experience and know-how that will serve them well throughout their lives. Along the way, they also study some very cool earth science principles, thanks to PUSD’s commitment to outdoor education.

Teaming up with outdoor leaders

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About 19 years ago, PUSD’s Outdoor Education Program Coordinator and Trainer Rob Wade met Rick Stock, FRC’s director of the Outdoor Recreation Leadership Program (ORL). Together, they developed a program tailored to the K-12 school district’s sixth-grade Year of the Watershed.

From the beginning, Wade and Stock decided the science and safety lessons would be best taught and remembered if they were held outdoors on the Feather River.

So they mapped out an “Adventures in Learning” program that takes every sixth-grade student on rafting trips down sections of the Feather River. Portola students raft portions of the Middle Fork and Chester; Greenville and Quincy students raft the East Branch of the North Fork.

The program is based on developing recreation experiences jointly with science education as it teaches students water safety, rafting skills and respect for the power of our regional streams and tributaries of the Feather River. Some sections of the river are classified as Class III, IV and even V, making safety instruction imperative.

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The program also provides valuable experience for the ORL students who volunteer from the college. They build expertise as outdoor adventure guides and they master wilderness rescue skills. Learning to wrangle a bunch of sixth-graders is probably a bonus.

Water science and splashy fun

If you asked the PUSD students, they would probably be hard-pressed to name a more fun way to learn about hydrology, geology, erosion, fish migration, the importance of hydroelectric power for urban and agricultural needs, or plate tectonics. All this and a rafting adventure, too? You bet.

In an interview for the Plumas County Office of Education last year, FRC’s instructor Stock said, “Being on a river in a raft or kayak gives you a unique view of the waterway that cannot be experienced in any other way.”

The students — who attend local schools in Chester, Greenville, Portola and Quincy — deeply appreciate that unique view. They also get a memorable and first-class science education about the importance of California water and all its uses.

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From water for wildlife and human consumption to the needs of industry, power and recreation in the Feather River Canyon, students learn about the vital necessity of water as a resource. Their scientific notebooks become filled with information and details about the section of the river where they are rafting.

Lessons also cover the history of Maidu fish camp practices before the Feather River was dammed for hydroelectric power and talk about how rapids are formed.

Students discover that rafting is connected with the four important earth science cycles of water, rocks, seasons and daily changes, all of which contribute to the water flow in rivers.

PUSD’s science coordinator Wade notes that many students experience rafting and their own big backyard of the Feather River Watershed for the first time through the Outdoor Core curriculum.

It’s a safe place to express natural fears about the power of rivers and learn to manage the jitters while also being trained in crucial water safety issues. Afterwards, students are universal in their excitement and joy at having rafted through thrilling rapids with the FRC guides and their classmates.

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“Outdoor Core is about our ‘Mountain Kids’ having fun growing up and going to school in Plumas County,” Wade said.