A Living Laboratory

Birds in the Classroom, May 2012

For the last few years ESLT has partnered with Eastern Sierra Audubon Society to host a spring birding field trip to Benton Hot Springs Ranch Conservation Easement for students at a rural elementary school in Benton. The Birds in the Classroom program focuses on birding and using binoculars, a “left brain” scientific trip. This year, for the first time ever, we partnered with the teachers to also offer a fall field trip that exercised the “right brain” liberal arts creativity and instilled an appreciation for the place where they lived.

On October 18th Edna Beaman Elementary School’s 3rd – 8thgrade classrooms (24 students) participated in our Benton Creative Writing Workshop, led by Education Coordinator and AmeriCorps Member Victoria Ortiz and ESLT volunteer Richard Hawk. Richard led the sharing of the free write and helped keep an eye on the kids. He was a high school English teacher in Bishop (Karen’s favorite teacher!) for 30 years and knows how to inspire and engage students.

Students free-writing during Creative Writing Workshop

The program was very fun and successful. The kids were well behaved and loved both the presentation and field trip. It was hard to believe how much information they retained from the spring field trip, such as the name of “bulrush” that grows in the ponds and what our restoration project aims to accomplish. A morning in-class presentation emphasized the history of Benton and reviewed some of the plants and animals on the land. Then we shuttled to the property and explored! The teachers had them bring journals that they made and they used these to record their thoughts and sketch during the free write. It was wonderful to see the kids excited and asking questions. One cannot underestimate the value of setting aside a little free time so that they can investigate and exclaim about what they’re seeing/hearing/smelling/touching.

We hope that these field trips help our younger generations connect with our treasured lands – to live, to learn and to experience the value of preserving these lands. As one student wrote in her thank you card after Birds in the Classroom,  “Thank you for taking the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th birding. I had a lot of fun. I drew a stellar Jay. I saw it flying over the lake. I really hope you get the right kind of fish in the water. Birding was really fun. I hope we can do it next year. Your friend, Angelica.”