May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

The Kaweah Oaks Preserve: A Jewel in Central California

Posted: Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

by Michelle French

The last two years, my co-workers and I have taken our first grade students to the Kaweah Oaks Preserve (KOP).  According to its website, “Kaweah Oaks Preserve, a 322-acre nature preserve, protects one of the last remaining valley oak riparian forests in the San Joaquin Valley.”  It really is so much more than that.

KOP is an opportunity to take a journey back in time and imagine how ourKaweah Oaks valley looked hundreds of years ago.  Each year, close to 1000 students from the Tulare County area experience how science and nature are as beautifully intertwined as the wild grapevines that climb the majestic valley oak trees.  I recently had the pleasure of talking with Laura Childers, the Education and Volunteer Director of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust (SRT).  The SRT is a “non-profit land trust dedicated to conserving the natural and agricultural legacy of the southern Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley.”  The trust controls and protects over 10,000 acres of land, including that of the Kaweah Oaks Preserve.

As we talked over a cup of hot tea, Laura told me about how she came to serve in this position and espoused the SRT’s nature conservation efforts in Central California.   Her love of what she does is infectious, and she relishes exploring ways to educate both children and adults about the importance of nature conservancy.

MF: Tell me about your background and how you ended up in Central California.

LC: I am originally from Houston, TX.   I studied history and geography at the University of Texas in Austin.  A few years ago, I started an internship up in the Sequoia National Forest.  While interning, I set up the evening campfire program, patrolled and helped at campgrounds, and talked with hundreds of people about the Giant Sequoias.  I enjoyed hearing the different perspectives about the trees.  Some people had comments like “That’s a lot of wood.”  Others would say things like, “There is God in this tree.”   That’s when I really focused on expanding people’s perceptions and interests of land management.

After working for a while as a ranger at Yellowstone National Park, Laura returned to Central California for two reasons: she had fallen in love with her boyfriend who lives in the Springville area, and she found the hundreds of untouched acres of habitat in both the valley and in the mountains of Sequoia National Park enchanting.

MF: How long have you been with the SRT, and as the director of education and volunteers, what are your responsibilities?

LC: I started with the SRT in January of 2009.  For the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, I coordinate school field trips and train volunteer naturalists as docents.  I make sure that our field trips align with state science standards for all grade levels.   Students in elementary school will explore plants and animals in their native habitats.  For students in middle and high schools, I coordinate service learning projects.  SRT’s six properties in Tulare County are helped by the student projects.  When doing a conservancy project, I first visit the students’ classroom and provide background information about the preserves.  Students then decide what will be the focus of their project.  On past projects, students have planted trees or tested water quality through our “What’s in Your Water?” campaign.  Our plant survey offers an experience where students go through a scientific way of figuring what types of plants are growing in the preserve.  Then they classify them as native, non-native, or invasive species.

Laura went on to tell me about the Eagle Scout candidates who have spent numerous hours at the Dry Creek Preserve, one of SRT’s six preserves, rebuilding signs for trail boundaries.  They also built new cautionary signs and a native plant nursery.   Additionally, Laura leads seminars for teachers.  The seminars assist teachers in becoming more aware of how they can educate their students about current environmental issues centering on both air and water quality and other concerns seen within the habitats of the SRT’s land holdings.

MF: Tell me about the various land holdings of SRT.  How many of the locations host classroom fieldtrips?

LC: There are six properties held by SRT, and the Kaweah Oaks Preserve is currently the only one open to the public on a regular basis.  It is open to everyone year-round.  The Dry Creek Preserve used to be a gravel mine.   SRT took over the lease after mining operations ended and began restoring it 10 years ago.   You can see Bald and Golden eagles, coyotes, reptiles, and songbirds when visiting this preserve.  The Herbert Wetlands Prairie Preserve is one of the few pieces of the valley floor in our county that has never been farmed or disced.  Here you can find burrowing owls and vernal pools.   We are having a public nature walk on April 30th.  These two areas, in addition to the Homer Ranch, Lewis Hill, and Blue Oak Ranch preserves, are not currently open to the public on a regular basis.  SRT plans to have Dry Creek Preserve and Blue Oak Ranch Preserve open to the public on a regular basis later this year.  You can visit our website to find out more information on each of the preserves.Kaweah Oaks

MF: Who leads the students and what are their qualifications?

LC: Usually retired teachers are volunteer naturalists.  Also, we often have people come to us who went down career paths that didn’t follow their childhood dreams of being a naturalists or park rangers.

MF: How many students do you host each year?

LC: About 750 children come through the KOP each year.  We usually have about 150 students participate in service learning projects each year.

MF: Tell me about the types of experiences students might have when visiting.

LC: Students will go on hikes.  There are three different trails.  On one trail, they can scramble across our sycamore climbing tree.  On others, they will walk over creek and canal bridges.  A really fun thing to do is catch insects with nets.  It looks as if the grasslands have no animals living there, but we catch so many insects with one swipe of the net through the grass, that students are shocked.  Students might see coyotes, king snakes, and many types of birds.

MF: What is the best time of year for students to visit?

LC: In the fall acorns start falling off trees and begin sprouting.  The ripe grapes are all over the climbing grapevines.  Tiny wasps create many types of colorful galls in interesting shapes.   In the spring, plants are flowering; parts of the preserve look like a jungle.  We can also get a clear view of mountains and view of the Kaweah River Watershed.  We can see the sequence of how the watershed is shaped like a funnel from the mountains, where it hits the valley floor, and is distributed on the valley floor.

MF: What might teachers do before visiting to help their students get as much as they can from the visit?Kaweah Oaks

LC: It helps if the students have a basic understanding of what a habitat is, what wild animals are, and the difference between woodland and grassland areas.  He or she can explore those aspects with students on the trip.

MF: How far in advance should schools book their trips?

LC: At least two weeks in advance.  May is the most popular month, so they need to book early during May.

MF: This interview will be read by science educators across the state.  What message would you like to leave with them?

LC: I know it’s hard to teach anything besides language arts and math, but integrating science and the study of nature and habitats helps kids become aware of the issues regarding nature.  As they grow up, they will be the ones preserving and voting.

The Kaweah Oaks Preserve truly is a jewel in the heart of Central California.  I hope that if you are ever in the area to visit the Sequoia National Park, you take a few hours to explore the Kaweah Oaks Preserve.  Included here are a few photographs from my last field trip to the Preserve, and a correlation chart to the grades K-5 science standards can be found on the CSTA website at http://www.cascience.org/csta/pdf/kaweah_oaks_standards_correlations.pdf.  Also, if you would like more information about the Sequoia Riverlands Trust, please visit their website: http://www.sequoiariverlands.org/index.html.

Michelle French is a first-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Tulare and is CSTA’s primary director.

Written by Michelle French

Michelle French is a STEM Curriculum Specialist at the Tulare County Office of Education and is a member of CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. As a teacher I have taken my students out to KOP for the past two years. It is truly educational not only for the students, but for teachers as well. Students get the opportunity to see all that they have been studying in class. A great trip!

  2. The place is amazing and folks here love it. Students are there all day and best of all it’s free. It’s the best place to see what the valley looked like before development. It’s also the best place to see the giant valley oak and associate species in their native habitat.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.