Connecting Children to Nature

by Inside the Outdoors Foundation
Capturing the moment
Capturing the moment

Students enrolled in AP environmental science courses at Brea Olinda High School recently spent their lunch break educating schoolmates and staff about the importance of water reliability and smart usage.

Spearheaded by OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors program and led by Brea Olinda High teacher Andrea Ramos, the “Water Expo” on May 19 featured a number of display tables set up by students from each period to reflect unique themes, including “What Would a Waterless Future Look Like” and “A Look at Fresh Water in the World.”

We’re told students also created their own marketing materials, including a Snapchat filter, an Instagram frame and the hashtag #bohswaterexpo. Those who attended were even asked to take a pledge to protect water and reduce the amount they personally use each day.

“We are so thankful for the amazing partnership we’ve forged with Inside the Outdoors,” Ramos said. “The Water Expo provided a wonderful creative outlet for students to take what they’ve learned and share it with others.”

Andrea's class is part of Inside the Outdoors' "What About Water" high school program, offered in partnership with the Municipal Water District of Orange County and its member agencies.

To learn more about Inside the Outdoors' partnership with Brea Olinda High School, visit the links below. 


Junior Naturalist - ITO Summer Day Camp
Junior Naturalist - ITO Summer Day Camp

Mikayla attended Inside the Outdoors’ Outdoor Science School (OSS) in 2007 during her 5th grade school year.  She spent a week with her teacher and classmates at Camp Cedar Crest in the San Bernardino Mountains immersed in nature’s living laboratory.  At OSS, students learn by doing.  The classrooms are on outdoor trails where hands-on experiments, activities, games and songs are used to teach grade appropriate science concepts such as Astrology, Forest Ecology, Geology and Wildlife Biology.  Every moment at Outdoor Science School is a teaching moment. Students discover the spectacular night sky while observing constellations and study local nocturnal animals and their adaptations during night hikes.  The weeklong experience also provides an ideal atmosphere for development of leadership and social skills and self-esteem. Both students and teachers leave knowing more about the natural world and themselves.

A year later, in 2008, Mikayla attended Inside the Outdoors’ Summer Day Camp and loved the experience so much that she joined the ranks as a Junior Naturalist for the following three years.  Each year, at each site (3 sites and 6 weeks to choose from), a new theme is selected and activities and games are planned around that theme. The “Animal Planet” theme offered young survivalists the opportunity to learn the 10 essentials of hiking and how to construct a natural shelter, build a compass for navigation, master plant and animal identification, and face challenges that only teamwork can solve.

In 2014, Mikayla applied for an Animal Care Assistant position and has been caring for the menagerie of program animals at Inside the Outdoors ever since.  Each day over 100 animals, such as a Tegu lizard, Bull python, owl, Red-tailed hawk, California desert tortoise, tarantula, rabbits and rats are handled, fed and cared for. Mikayla’s favorite ITO program animal is Dexter, the Opossum.

What began as a spark for environmental science as a 5th graders is today a fire!  Mikayla has continued to follow her passion for nature and wildlife by pursuing a degree in Zoology, volunteering her time teaching high school ROP students animal health care, and working at a small animal vet in addition to caring for the wild and exotic animals of Inside the Outdoors.

Mikayla has been an animal lover and advocate for as long as she can remember, and especially passionate about crocodiles and wildlife research. Visiting the Australia Zoo that her childhood hero, Steve Irwin, made famous has always been a dream of hers.  Who would have ever thought one day she would be selected to participate in an expedition on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve (SIWR).  The SIWR, located on Cape York Peninsula of Australia, is a vast mosaic of rainforests, wetlands and savannas.  The Reserve has been set aside as a tribute to the conservation work of Steve Irwin and a place for scientific research and discovery.

In August 2016, Mikayla was 1 of only 8 people chosen for this amazing opportunity.  She spent two weeks working alongside the Australia Zoo Croc Research Team and scientists from The University of Queensland building croc traps, pioneered by Steve Irwin and the most humane crocodilian capture technique.  Using the techniques she'd watched Steve do hundreds of times in videos and on TV she helped measure and tag crocodiles while getting up close to the world’s largest living reptile during the catch and release process.

All of the information gained on this expedition has helped advance Mikayla's education. Caring for the exotic animals used in Inside the Outdoors field and school programs has prepared Mikayla for her goal of becoming a zoologist and wildlife conservationist.  Collectively all of these experiences have shaped her life.  It has been an honor and a pleasure for Inside the Outdoors to be part of Mikayla’s journey.

Mikayla and Dexter, the Opossum
Mikayla and Dexter, the Opossum
Mikayla with Teri and Robert Irwin
Mikayla with Teri and Robert Irwin
Mikayla with the Australia Zoo Croc Team
Mikayla with the Australia Zoo Croc Team
New best friends - Mikayla and a crocodile
New best friends - Mikayla and a crocodile
Mayor, Diane Brooks Dixon & Boeing Volunteers
Mayor, Diane Brooks Dixon & Boeing Volunteers

On Saturday, July 23, 2016, sixty Boeing and community volunteers descended upon the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve with sleeves rolled up and gloves in hand, ready to put in a morning of hard labor. The Mayor of Newport Beach, Diane Brooks Dixon, gave opening remarks and thanked volunteers for giving back to the community.

Boeing Volunteers participated in hand-watering 1500 newly planted native species in three areas of the Preserve. It is important to nurture new and existing native plants in the Preserve so that the endangered animals calling this place home can thrive.

Upper Newport Bay has 13 different habitats and 21 distinct plant communities supporting life at the estuary. Preservation and restoration is crucial in supporting biodiversity. Non-native plants are often invasive and can overrun native plant species which support multitudes of organisms that rely on them for nesting, shelter and food. Habitat restoration and preservation projects including invasive plant removal, seedling and native planting, nesting preparation, predator control, trail maintenance and coastal clean-up are a few of the projects volunteers engaged in throughout the year.

Upper Newport Bay is the largest of only a few remaining natural estuaries in Southern California and an important rest stop or home to migrating birds, up to 30,000 can be seen daily in winter months. This wetland ecosystem in the Pacific Flyway is home to 200 species of birds, including several endangered and threatened species such as the California Gnatcatcher, Light-Footed Clapper Rail, and the Belding's Savannah Sparrow. The area is highly urbanized and critical habitat must be restored in order to protect the ecosystem.

During the Global Month of Service, Boeing and community volunteers also assembled and painted compost bins and bird boxes to be donated to Orange County schools in underserved communities with existing garden or with plans to install a new garden through an ITOF service-learning project. Along with the compost bins and bird boxes, Inside the Outdoors Foundation will provide education and guidance to students and teachers on the importance of composting as part of the 5 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Rot, Repurpose, and Recycle. The Boeing Company donated materials and supplies, as well as volunteers who contributed 180 volunteer hours to the preservation of habitat at the Upper Newport Bay.

Volunteers hand-water 1500 native plant species
Volunteers hand-water 1500 native plant species
Building compost bin for low-income schools
Building compost bin for low-income schools
Decorated bird boxes will be donated to shcools
Decorated bird boxes will be donated to shcools
Tide pool exploration!
Tide pool exploration!

Merriam Webster defines tide pool as "an area of water that is left on a beach after the tide has fallen."  When a student is on an Inside the Outdoors field trip at Crystal Cover State Park, they define tide pools a little differently.  It the taste of the salt in the tidal mist.  It is the smell of the ocean and the creatures living in the intertidal zone. Its a tiny red crab and a limpet and how animals adapt to live in one of the harshest ecosystems in Southern California. 

Inside the Outdoors programs at Crystal Cove bring science to life and connect students to one of the few protected stretches of coastline in Orange County. While at Crystal Cove, students explore the coastal bluffs, examine the sandy beach, and investigate the tidepools. Their textbooks come to life as they become scientists. While at the park, students experience: 

Students learn about the environmental factors that affect tidepool organisms. Using clue cards and pictures to find living things in the tidepools, they discover the adaptations of various organisms in the intertidal ecosystem.

Students learn about the major phyla of invertebrates found in tidepools. They classify shells and preserved specimens using common characteristics and learn the life history of some of the animals in the tidepools.

Bluff Ecosystem
Working in teams, students discover the functions of several organisms in this ecosystem and classify them according to their notes. Students also learn how these animals and plants interact and depend on each other for survival.

Students classify several objects they find on the beach as natural or unnatural and discuss the origin of the materials and their function, if any, on the beach.

Creature Feature
Students use their creative talent to build a creature in the sand that has the characteristics of one of the invertebrate phyla.

Many of the students who visit Crystal Cove live a few miles from the beach but have never seen the ocean. Inside the Outdoors programs change that, creating memorable experiences that build the foundation for a life-long love of science and a better understanding of how humans interact with the environment.


2015 Governor
2015 Governor's Award

A waste-reduction partnership between the Orange County Department of Education’s Inside the Outdoors and OC Waste & Recycling has received the state’s highest environmental honor.

On the heels of netting a major accolade from the California School Boards Association, Project Zero Waste, a service-learning program that empowers students with hands-on environmental science instruction, has earned its collaborators the prestigious Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, or GEELA.

OCDE and OC Waste & Recycling were jointly recognized — along with just 11 other organizations — Tuesday night at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Sacramento.

In the photo above, CalEPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez, left, is joined on stage by Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County’s superintendent of schools; Isabel Rios, recycling and environmental programs manager with OC Waste & Recycling; Lori Kiesser, development director for Inside the Outdoors; and state Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach.

“This is a tremendous honor for our program,” Kiesser said. “The GEELA represents the top environmental award in the state, and it’s a testament to the collaborative efforts of Inside the Outdoors and OC Waste & Recycling, which are promoting sustainability and changing lives.”

Project Zero Waste teaches students the science of solid waste through Inside the Outdoors Field Trips as well as in-class lessons taught by Traveling Scientists. Program participants get to apply what they’ve learned to the design and implementation of solid waste reduction campaigns, which include campuswide recycling efforts, school gardens, community clean-up activities and other student-led activities.

The program, which in December, which in December won the California School Board Association's Golden Bell Award, has offered science instruction to more than 325,000 students since it began in 2009. Follow-up assessments show these lessons increase STEM knowledge by an average of 14 percent, and schools engaging in Project Zero Waste have reduced their trash by up to 20,000 pounds annually.

Geelaseal“The lessons learned by students participating in Project Zero Waste extend beyond academics,” Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares said recently. “In applying science lessons to develop solutions to real-world problems, students gain team-building, creativity and leadership skills.”

Established in 1993, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award is presented annually to individuals, companies and organizations that use sustainable business practices to conserve energy, reduce waste or prevent pollution while contributing to their local economy.

Finalists are selected by a panel of judges that includes the Governor’s Office and the secretaries of the California Environmental Protection Agency; the Natural Resources Agency; the Department of Food and Agriculture; the State Transportation Agency; the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency; the Labor and Workforce Development Agency; and the Health and Human Services Agency.

Each year, the panel evaluates and announces winners in the following categories: Environmental Education; Ecosystem and Land Use Stewardship; Climate Change; Zero Emission Vehicle Dealers; Sustainable Practices, Communities or Facilities; and Waste Reduction.

To learn more about Project Zero Waste, check out the video below, and be sure to visit the Inside the Outdoors website to get involved.

Amazing Environmental Ed Programs for All Ages!!
Amazing Environmental Ed Programs for All Ages!!
Student-Led Projects - MLK Day of Service
Student-Led Projects - MLK Day of Service



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Organization Information

Inside the Outdoors Foundation

Location: Silverado, Ca - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Lori Kiesser
Program Development Manager
Costa Mesa, California United States

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