Rob Wade is the Learning Landscapes coordinator for the Feather River Land Trust and outdoor and science education coordinator for the Plumas Unified School District. Here he accompanies students to help instruct them on compiling data collected on a variety of extraordinary fauna found within our region and recording their findings in their science field journals. Photo by Vanessa Vasquez

Learning Landscapes brings learning to the outdoors

Implemented by Rob Wade, outdoor and science education coordinator for the Plumas Unified School District, and Feather River Land Trust’s founding Executive Director Paul Hardy, Learning Landscapes is the land trust’s innovative conservation and education program, designed to get students outside the classroom in order to enhance their contact with the natural world as part of their science curriculum.

One of the unique circumstances of living near the forest bordered by the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains is that we live in an ideal setting for students to nurture their relationship to their surroundings, integrating their regular academic studies with the outdoor examination of the Feather River Watershed.

Since 2004, Wade said the Feather River Land Trust has provided a leading role while working with dedicated teachers and parents, environmental-based organizations, biologists and community members to assist students to utilize “outdoor classrooms” next to public schools.

Through the Learning Landscapes program, students have the opportunity to pursue their academic studies with the outdoor inspection of a variety of extraordinary fauna found within our region, with an emphasis in stewardship while in the field where they study the value of habitat preservation and the interconnection of all life forms.

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According Wade, the program’s primary mission is to choose areas within a short walk of every public school in each educational district, making it easier for teachers to bring students outdoors to explore, investigate and hone their science inquiry skills, and to make it a fun experience for all involved.

He noted that some of the kids who normally aren’t willing to work hard on their science studies undertake the toughest assignments in order to be outside.

In Chester, one area for student research is the Olsen Barn and Meadow, which the FRLT has made available for elementary school teachers to “teach from the land,” and ultimately to “lead students in restoration and stewardship projects with many local science partners,” such as the Plumas Audubon Society and Collins Pine biologists.

Each grade level has its own distinct area of study, he said, starting with a gardening class on campus for kindergarteners while first-graders investigate invertebrates and second-graders study amphibians and reptiles. Third-grade students learn about local mammals while fourth-graders explore the subject of trout and fisheries. Fifth-graders study birds. Finally sixth-grade students look at nature through the lens of how the watershed is essential to the wellbeing of the region’s various habitats.

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As students graduate to higher grade levels they revisit many of the same areas as before to help them comprehend how all the various parts of the ecology tie together and interact, and depend on the health of the environment as a whole.

Another part of the Land Trust’s Learning Landscapes curriculum is the summer BioBlitz near the North Fork of the Feather River.

The BioBlitz is a collaborative effort to discover and record as many living things as possible within a specific area.

A seating area has been installed with benches for students to sit on behind the Olsen Barn where they record their observations in their field journals, providing an opportunity to encourage a love of learning while opening a window into the wonders of nature, said Wade.

Quoting from the FRLT’s website: “Our goal is to grow healthy, curious kids with a strong stewardship ethic. By conserving natural lands near public schools where rich, daily outdoor education can occur, together we are instilling a love of knowledge among the children of the Feather River region.”

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For more information on the FRLT, contact the main office at 283-5758. To donate online go to www.frlt.org/donate. The Learning Landscapes website is www.learninglandscapes-frlt.org.