Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Valuable lessons learned at schoolhouse

Whether they are experiencing pioneer life in a one room schoolhouse, searching for gold out in the nearby creek, or learning about bugs and the environment, Fallbrook’s third, fourth and fifth graders get a boost to their education at the De Luz Ecology Center.

Housed in the former De Luz Schoolhouse, built in 1927, the ecology center is owned and funded (through the General Fund) by the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District. The center has one teacher, Scott Gordon, who coordinates his lessons with the district’s school teachers so the programs he presents expand on the knowledge the students are developing in their classrooms.

According to Gordon, not many school districts have an outdoor education program like this, one that is “obviously trying to enhance what the teachers are doing in their classrooms and do things they can’t do in the classroom.” He said that having the students come out to the center each year, in the third through fifth grades, allows the program to reinforce concepts by exploring them further each year.

From September through December, the elementary schools in the district take turns sending their third grade classes out to the center for a taste of what attending a one-room school was like in the early 1900’s. Besides writing on slate boards and reading old McGuffey readers, the students learn how to make ice cream, cornbread and butter without modern appliances. They also learn the history of the local Luiseno band of Native Americans, including basic information about the plants and animals used by the Indians.

Fourth graders travel to the center one class at a time for Gold Rush Days in May and June. The students learn details about the daily life of gold miners including the great distances they had to travel to get to California. Lessons include how to identify gold by comparing it to other rocks and minerals, and how to pan for gold in the De Luz Creek. While the site was not part of a gold rush, the program helps children to understand history through hands-on lessons.

The district’s fifth grade classes each spend four days at the center in an outdoor science program between January and April. Concepts explored by the fifth graders include food chains, habitats and environmental conservation. Gordon leads hikes on the center’s trails through the 120 acre property so the students can see firsthand where different animals and insects live, what they eat and what they leave behind. One project involves dissecting owl pellets while another requires the students to look for particular insects in the creek.

For the students, these field trips are a chance to get out of the classroom and learn in a unique environment; they don’t often get a chance to get wet and dirty during class time. The different setting and occasional live objects make learning more fun.

The students are not the only ones who enjoy their trips out to the ecology center. Fallbrook resident Kristy Norfolk didn’t care for history when she was in school. As a parent, she has been out to the center a few times in recent years. While on a fourth grade field trip with her son Chase, she said, “I like history now. learning a lot.”

The interactive lessons also provide a deeper look into history and science than the teachers can put together in their classrooms with all the mandated requirements they have to fulfill. When talking about the center and Scott Gordon, Live Oak teacher Melanie Irwin said, “We’re lucky to have this. He does an awesome job.”

Gordon, who has a degree in outdoor education and 22 years of teaching experience, was happy to report that the school district included the center in next year’s budget.

District Superintendent Brian Jacobs said that the budget for the De Luz Ecology Center for next year is $136,120 which includes the employee costs, supplies, transportation and water charges. (The custodial time/supplies, maintenance and grounds keeping are included in a separate part of the budget.)

Jacobs also said, “The De Luz School meets the district’s academic needs through history, language arts, math and the sciences. It is an important piece of our school district and has been sustained and supported by the governing board even in these horrific [times for] state and district budgets. Even with our million-dollar cuts over the last three years, we have continued to support this valuable education experience for our students.”

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