This morning, I stepped outside my front door to see a brilliant sunrise. Large puffy clouds were painted a on blue canvas backlit by the sun. Yesterday, I watched strong winds blow tree limbs across the pavement just outside my office. Two days before that, I looked out my window to see hail peppering my car and parking spot. Each of these experiences connected me to nature. It made me feel like the world was much bigger than me. The strength of the wind, the color of the sunrise, and the sound of the hail inspired a sense of awe in me.
What is awe and why does my experience relate to the work of Inside the Outdoors? Dacher Keltner, a scientist who has studied awe for many years, shared awe "changes your sense of who you are. You start to realize, I'm not a separate person, I'm connected to all these people." It is the feeling a person gets when they see a rainbow, a hummingbird, or a storm blowing through their neighborhood. It makes us kinder, curious, and even scared. But most importantly, it helps us develop a sense of the vastness of the world around us.
When a student steps off the bus at an Inside the Outdoors field trip in a local natural area such as Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, they often are seeing the place for the first time. Upper Newport Bay is an estuary that connects to the Pacific Ocean. I've heard students, parents, and teachers gasp at the beauty in front of them. They immediately want to explore, learn, and stay. They're surprised - wondering what lives in the estuary. One student breathed in deeply, sighed happily, and shared, "It smells like nature. This is the best day ever." That is awe.
To say that the day can be life-changing for a student is not over-exaggeration. Take Gloria, a fifth grader who spent a day many years ago on an Inside the Outdoors field trip. Gloria had an encounter with a Western Fence Lizard. As she watched the frantic movements of the small creature, she said she realized that learning wasn't static. It was real life. A Harvard graduate, Gloria was so inspired by the moment that when asked about a transformational educational experience years later, she cited her Inside the Outdoors field trip as a catalyst.
Awe can be inspired indoors, as well. Inside the Outdoors Traveling Scientists, joined by our Animal Ambassadors, connect children to nature when we bring the natural world indoors. Whether the students meet a tarantula, a rabbit, or a snake, the awe the students experience is evident. As they learn about the world outside of their classroom, they experience a connection to the creatures that share our planet. The teachers and parents are just as excited, filling the classroom to see who is visiting from Inside the Outdoors.
And this all happens in the context of learning. It is science that comes to life. It is an emotional connection that encourages curiousity. It can be life-changing. Each donor - at any level - is part of the work we do to inspire students. We are thankful for the many people who help us connect over 100,000 students a year to nature.
For the past two months, the Inside the Outdoors team has excitedly ramped up in-person student programs for the start of the current school year. Hearing the energetic student voices on our local trails and in our parks always brings joy to our program team as we seek to empower the next generation of environmentally literate citizens who think globally and act locally.
Inside the Outdoors’ current education efforts for 2022-2023 fall within several key areas: in-person field trips and Traveling Scientist programs, virtual programs, community programs and events, and specialized curriculum development. For this GlobalGiving Update, we’re highlighting one of our most exciting recent projects of specialized curriculum development with our valued partners OC Waste & Recycling. Together, we launched a new curricular initiative aimed at challenging local students and families to adopt sustainable behaviors.
Under the Eco Challenge umbrella, the program provides local educators with materials that support classroom lessons, student engagement and family activities connected to Orange County’s waste diversion efforts. Nearly 20 local schools participated in a pilot program and dozens more implemented the curriculum — including Adelaide Price and other campuses in the Anaheim Elementary School District.
“OC Waste & Recycling has a long-standing relationship with the OC Department of Education and Inside the Outdoors to bring engaging classroom, after-school and summer school programs to teachers and students,” said OC Waste & Recycling’s community program manager, Irene Alonso. “Not only do kids learn about recycling best practices, but they also understand the importance of their role, and how small changes directly impact the local resources in our own backyards, such as preserving landfill space, reducing greenhouse gasses and generating new resources, such as energy and renewable gas.”
In honor of America Recycles Day (November 15th), the OCDE Newsroom produced a video highlighting the work at Adelaide Price Elementary School in Anaheim: Vimeo Video - Recycling and Composting | Adelaide Price Elementary School
For additional information on Eco Challenge and how local educators can adopt curriculum in classrooms, please contact Inside the Outdoors at email@example.com.
Students can soak up the sunshine during outdoor activities this July with the return of summer camp at Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach. The 2022 Summer Day Camp program, hosted by Inside the Outdoors, is back in-person for little ones to explore nature while strengthening their science skills through new hobbies and crafts.
Led by Inside the Outdoors program’s naturalists, the environmental education camp encourages children to foster their creativity and curiosity as they participate in games and experiments. Children ages 6 to 11 can be registered as campers for the weeklong day camp of their choice. For kids 12 to 17 years old, opportunities will be available for leadership roles through the camp sessions.
The program offers four weeklong day camp options from July 5 through July 29 with activities tailored to different themes. The first theme, “Campology,” will feature tie-dye crafts, camp songs, games, and projects. The second week will allow students to meet animals and learn about the history of hunting and gathering through the theme “Adventures in the Wild.” During week three, “No Place Like Space” will teach campers through experiments and crafts as they explore the mysteries of the galaxy.
The final week, themed “Camp Castaway,” will challenge campers in teams to compete with songs, skits, and games to test their outdoor skills. In addition, children from all weeklong camps will write daily nature journal prompts and go home with one of their crafts.
Each day of camp will last from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for the first week, which begins on Tuesday. Campers who want to prolong their stay until 4 p.m can be signed up for the Extended Camp experience for an additional fee. Each week, kids will have the opportunity to learn songs, perform skits, play games, interact with live animals, make friends, and more.
Parents can learn more about the program and register at https://ocde.us/ito/Pages/SummerCamp.aspx.
I used to begin work each day by walking down a short trail to my office at Rancho Soñado. On the way down the hill, I’d pass fields of wildflowers where I encountered rabbits, deer, lizards, songbirds, an occasional snake, and even a tarantula. As I’d settle in my office for the day, I’d wait for chatter and laughter from the students who were spending a day on a field trip to a wilderness area they had no idea even existed when they boarded the school bus that morning. For more than 14 years, I felt incredibly lucky to have my office at Rancho Soñado, affectionately known as just “Rancho,” which served as the headquarters and a student field trip site for the Orange County Department of Education’s (OCDE) Inside the Outdoors (ITO) environmental education program.
When the pandemic shut down on-campus learning in March of 2020, the trails at Rancho were no longer filled with the sounds of students. I missed the exclamations of awe from students who seldom, if ever, had been outside of their neighborhoods. I looked at the empty picnic tables and waited, as the world waited, for life to become normal again. I was certain students would return to the site soon, and until they could we would do our best to bring Rancho to them. ITO’s dedicated team of environmental educators worked tirelessly to launch live-streamed field trips so students could still visit and experience the wonder of Rancho.
Everything changed on December 3, 2020. Rancho sits in the foothills of the Cleveland National Forest, and the site’s hilly landscapes were overtaken by the wind-driven Bond Fire that carved a destructive path through Silverado Canyon. In a year filled with loss, we lost even more that day. I still cry when I think about it. ITO staff, our OCDE colleagues, and the community we serve were deeply impacted by the fire. Our team’s story follows.
The Bond Fire was Different
Though Rancho and the surrounding canyons had burned before, most notably in 2007 when the fire burned up to the back doors, the Bond Fire was different. Holly Steele, the administrator of ITO , recounts: “Driven by our local Santa Ana winds, the Bond Fire overtook Rancho Soñado very quickly. Thankfully, our caretaker and her family were safely evacuated. Though the animal evacuation team was deployed and en route to the site, everyone was forced to turn back for their own safety. As a result, we tragically lost nearly all of our beloved program animals who were housed on-site. The fire completely destroyed the program’s main administrative office and the entire caretaker residence. Teaching stations that provided support for our trails were also lost. I would estimate that about 95% of the approximately 110 acres of Rancho Soñado were completely burned.”
“Because the program had already planned for potential power outages — due to planned power safety public shutoffs — the staff had already been prepared to teach remotely using previously recorded video footage,” Steele added. “A handful of programs were rescheduled because of a need to revise program content. Using even previously recorded video footage of our program animals that had been lost was, understandably, sensitive and emotionally charged for team members. There was a need to replace this with new footage and to, especially, reconsider the virtual field trip that focused on Rancho Soñado itself. The team took the first week of January following the winter holidays to focus deeply on these revisions. The teaching team was adamant that they wanted to work towards processing their grief through service to our students.”
Yarib Dheming, ITO outreach manager, was at the site just hours before the fire started. He reflects, “The evening of the fire we were hosting a virtual professional development opportunity with teachers, and the topic of wildfires came up. It definitely made me think of how much more education is needed around current environmental issues we are facing, including the increase of wildfires in California. It’s important for students to understand how wildfires affect our communities and open spaces here in Orange County and discuss what possible solutions can be implemented. I believe OCDE’s thinking is the same in wanting that education to be relevant while also supporting academic standards.”
Resiliency: Rebuilding Inside the Outdoors
ITO’s staff has an ongoing relationship with Rancho Soñado that has provided a metaphor for resilience.
Imagine you’re a coast live oak. When the Santiago Fire came through Rancho in 2007 you lucked out. You looked at burned charred ground and within days of the fire, there was green. You saw things happen that never would have happened had it not been for the fire. A death camas grows under your branches and you’re surrounded by hills full of fire poppies. You know that biologists hadn’t seen a death camas for 60 years in Orange County. Then there were all these seedlings, and it was an indication of a healthy ecosystem. You survived with some scars but you stood tall when the wildlife returned. Once again, you saw the rabbits, deer, lizards, songbirds, snakes, and tarantulas.
The 2020 fire was more intense so the resilience is harder to find — but it is there. The land will slowly recover. Anyone visiting the site likely will catch a glimpse of the two deer who have wandered the hills for a couple of years. Fields of fire-followers are back and when I can return I’m sure I will once again see the rabbits, deer, lizards, songbirds, snakes, and tarantulas.
ITO is resilient as well. The grief over the loss of the animal ambassadors remains but we look forward with hope. That comes in the form of two new team members, snakes Sam and Santos, who were ready for the 2021–22 school year.
ITO also is surrounded by a community of support that transforms loss into new opportunities for students. The most innovative partnerships pop up. A partnership with OCDE’s Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE) team will allow students to explore the environmental impact of tobacco usage. A decades-long partnership with the Anaheim Elementary School District has never been stronger. Every student in the district experienced a virtual environmental education field trip last year and will again this year. A group of sixth-graders got to experience virtual science camp when they thought that opportunity was gone. And so right in the middle of loss that could’ve left us with nothing, it feels like there’s everything. Things that we never imagined were possible are possible because we’ve had to get outside of the box and be creative.
Wildfires and Climate Change: There’s more work to be done
Steele shared that this has been the hardest experience of her administrative career and shared her own perspective on the imperative for environmental literacy.
“While there are natural cycles for fires within chaparral ecosystems, the frequency and severity of fires are clearly abnormal,” she said. The increasing frequency of fires, primarily attributable to climate change, such as these is obviously a concerning phenomenon. As a science educator, this environmental work has long been important to me, and it is also incredibly personal now. Helping to ensure that our next generation understands the beautiful and sometimes difficult relationship between human society and our natural world is critical. We will certainly continue to champion this work as an ITO team, primarily through our work with an intentional focus on our California Environmental Principles and Concepts.”
Wildfires and the devastation they cause are only part of the story. As destructive fires burn throughout the Western United States, there are floods and other extreme weather events impacting communities globally. These events are overwhelming and can make all of us feel helpless.
So, how might we help the next generation develop a sense of agency and belief in their own resilience in the face of adversity? It starts with education that leads to environmental literacy. According to a 2019 EdSource article by Sydney Johnson, California students have asked for climate change to be included in the core curriculum. Let’s answer their request with a resounding, “yes.” Field experiences grounded in academic standards and connected to classroom lessons build the foundation for informed decision-making. As students understand what is happening in their communities, they can understand both the local and global impact of climate change.
Note: Article written by Lori Kiesser and published as part of Ten Strands Environmental Literacy, Featured Authors series.
Can you remember a time when you rushed to a window to see a rainbow? How about walking outside after a spring rain shower just so you can smell the newness in the air? These experiences generate a sense of “awe” that connects you to a world bigger than yourself. What if engaging experiences in nature could be connected to classroom lessons? Could that same sense of “awe” be replicated as students are learning?
We believe the answer is yes. Inside the Outdoors’ unique approach creates a bridge between in-class learning and experiences in nature. We call this the “in-between” space, meaning that we are situated in-between traditional outdoor learning experiences and traditional K-12 classroom experiences.
ITO’s “In-Between” includes:
As we shared in previous reports 2020 & 2021 have been especially challenging for us, too. In the midst of a pandemic and the loss of our environmental education site to a wildfire, we remain focused on strengthening our position in the “in-between” space as it leads to stronger student outcomes. We hope that you’ll join us in our work to connect students to nature.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.
We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.
Support this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page.Start a Fundraiser