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

FLC's Save Our Forest Environmental Education Program connects students with nature

FALLBROOK – Fallbrook is known for its lush groves and open spaces, but many young people have little to no interaction with nature. Fallbrook Land Conservancy's Save Our Forest committee has been addressing this inequity by connecting students with the local ecosystem through its Environmental Education Program for 19 years.

This volunteer-run program introduces students in local public schools to the benefits of native plants, while teaching natural resources conservation and promoting community volunteerism. The program, first envisioned and led for many years by SOF Chair Jackie Heyneman, not only educates students but also restores FLC preserves.

The program begins with volunteer leader Gizella Nyquist presenting an interactive lesson to the fourth grade students at Fallbrook Union Elementary School District schools and Vallecitos Elementary School. Students learn that the FLC provides open space preserves to the public for recreation and wildlife habitat, and how native wildlife depends on the native plants that are adapted to our local environment.

One of the most important tenets of the program is to help students understand that as an unincorporated community, Fallbrook depends on nonprofits like the FLC to provide important services, made possible by volunteers.

The students are then invited to volunteer personally and are given hands-on experience potting native plant seedlings. Holding a living plant and getting their hands dirty in soil solidifies the memory of the lesson they just received.

These student volunteers increase the depth of their knowledge through the Program in the fifth grade when they travel on a field trip to one of FLC's local preserves. This year, students visited Los Jilgueros Preserve, in the heart of Fallbrook and just a few minutes from each school.

This is a big adventure for students, who are greeted by program founder Jean Dooley and led to the entrance of the preserve. There, FLC Chair Susan Liebes gives the students an orientation, explaining how the preserve is the home to many plant and animal species and as visitors people need to be respectful of them by staying on trails, packing out trash, and not removing any flowers or other natural features.

The fifth grade students then embark on an expedition, learning about the types of habitats found in the preserve as they hike about one mile through to the area where they will be volunteering once again, this time as part of a habitat restoration project. The seedlings the fourth graders potted are now big enough to be planted in the ground, and the fifth graders are instructed on how to do so.

Adult volunteers are assigned to small groups of students to assist, and the kids get started digging holes.Each student picks a native plant, this year from the coastal sage scrub ecosystem, either a California buckwheat, California sagebrush, black sage, coastal bush sunflower, coyote bush, or white sage.

It is the student's responsibility to carefully unpot the plant, make sure the hole is the correct depth, and get the plant situated in the ground. Students complete their work by carrying water and mulch to nourish their plant.

The field trip culminates with the hike back to the school bus, as students are asked to consider what the area they planted will look like in 100 years. Many guess that by then the plants will have grown to full size, filled in, and created beautiful wildlife habitat.

Some students worry that someday it will become a parking lot or a strip mall, but they are promised that, because the preserve is owned by the FLC, it will be protected forever. In fact, they will be able to come here with their children or even their grandchildren and show them where they planted back when they were in fifth grade!

The SOF Environmental Education Program reaches over 1,000 students in local schools every year. The joy of this experience is multiplied not only by the students participating in the program, but also by the dozens of volunteers who make it possible.

This outdoor educational experience creates vibrant memories for all who are involved and, as the plants grow, so will their connection with their natural environment.

For more information on the program and Fallbrook Land Conservancy, visit http://www.FallbrookLandConservancy.org.

Submitted by the Fallbrook Land Conservancy.

 

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