A group of 4th and 5th grade students from Watsonville Charter School attended Web of Life Field (WOLF) School at Camp Monte Toyon in Aptos, CA in mid-October 2016, thanks to a WOLF School scholarship that fully funded one of their successful outdoor science school day programs.
October 10, 2016 marked the third school year in a row that Watsonville Charter School teacher Jennifer Gill brought her 4th/5th grade class to WOLF School, but this year was exceptionally meaningful—it was the first time she didn’t have to spend an entire school year fundraising for tuition to be able to give her students the remarkable experience of outdoor science education.
“As a charter school, we go on a lot of field trips to connect our students with the greater world, but they are all to free locations, as we can’t ask parents for more than $20 for the entire school year,” explained Ms. Gill. “The hands-on educational experience that WOLF School provides students and how it builds in them an awareness and appreciation of nature…you just can’t beat it, so I save WOLF School as our ‘big ticket trip’ and we fundraise all year to be able to go in the spring. The opportunity for our students to go is contingent on the fundraising, so to have had the tuition covered by the WOLF School scholarship is huge for us. And now, instead of going to WOLF School at the end of spring and months after our ecosystems unit, we are here learning firsthand about ecosystems in the redwoods at the start of our unit. I can’t wait to see how it changes the student’s classroom learning!”
Watsonville Charter School and WOLF School’s relationship dates back to 2007, when a former WOLF School naturalist began a teaching position at Watsonville Charter School. Well-acquainted with WOLF School’s transformative powers in youth’s environmental education, self-confidence, and ability to make connections within the web of life, this naturalist-turned-teacher petitioned the school to allow her a fundraising campaign in order to send her 7th grade class to WOLF School’s residential outdoor science school program at their Yosemite-area campus, Camp Tuolumne Trails. Watsonville Charter School agreed and saw such an impact on their students they have continued the WOLF School science camp tradition—now for 6th grade students—ever since.
In 2014, wishing to introduce the outdoors to Watsonville Charter School’s students earlier in their education, Ms. Gill began sending her 4th/5th grade class to WOLF School’s outdoor science school day program, a single-day version of the 6th grade students’ residential program. She discovered the fundraising hurtle needed for her students to attend, yet has still persisted in the endeavor.
WOLF School strives to make its K-12th grade outdoor education programs available to students of all economic backgrounds, by providing scholarships to eligible schools and their students. Homebased at Little Basin Cabins & Campgrounds in the Santa Cruz Mountains’ redwood forest and operating at equally stunning campuses throughout California, WOLF School began its scholarship program—supported through donations, merchandise sales, and by grant funding—in 1998, and has since then helped connect thousands of California’s students, teachers, and families with nature by building a bridge from urban home communities to state forests, beaches, mountains, and wildlife.
Knowing Watsonville Charter School’s dedication to providing outdoor science education to students, and the efforts its staff undergoes to do so, WOLF School awarded a $500 WOLF School scholarship to Ms. Gill’s 4th/5th grade class from Watsonville Charter School, enough funding for 30 students to attend an outdoor science school day program led by two WOLF School naturalists at Camp Monte Toyon, located in the redwood forest and adjacent to Nisene Marks State Park, in Aptos, CA. Though Watsonville is located just 10 miles south of Aptos, it was many of the students’ first visit to the redwoods, as made apparent by exuberant exclamations of “Look how big that tree is!” upon arrival.
During their program, Watsonville Charter School students participated in a range of hands-on wildlife studies and science activities designed to develop their understanding of their place in and influence on the environment. From measuring and mapping California’s central coast redwoods, locating and recording salamander species data in their student field journals, learning about salamander habitats and redwood ecology, and sharing and presenting redwood and salamander data—the students actively participated in the redwood forest’s web of life, experiencing firsthand everything from the smallest baby rough-skinned newt to some of the tallest and oldest Sequoia sempervirens on earth.
“Today I saw a deer, butterflies, spiders, rolley pollies, and reptiles. It was a great experience here at WOLF School. It was so much fun and exciting it was like a one of a kind experience. I think my top three favorite parts were seeing a deer, measuring with the big measuring tape, and playing the camouflage game,” said one 5th grader from Ms. Gill’s class. Another continued, “It was fun hiking and seeing the newts and salamanders and it was fun learning about everything like redwoods and salamanders. The games were really fun like decomposer tag.”
Since 1989, WOLF School has offered outdoor education programs to thousands of K-12th grade students at campuses throughout California. WOLF School is the educational program of United Camps, Conferences, and Retreats (UCCR), a nonprofit organization that has cooperatively partnered with nonprofit organizations and government agencies to manage and care for their camps, retreats, and conference centers for over 40 years. WOLF School serves over 3,000 students annually with three different program focuses: Outdoor Science School, California Living History, and P.A.C.C. Team Building. Each of these programs introduces students to the outdoors and allows them to experience the world around them in order to better understand their influential role within it.
“I didn’t have program offerings like this when I was in school,” said parent volunteer Christina, as her son Noah measured the circumference of a redwood tree with three of his classmates. “It’s so important for kids to learn about the environment early in their education. This experience is so great! I loved it and I know my son is having an incredible time.”
Christina’s son and the rest of his 4th and 5th grade classmates will once again have the opportunity to attend WOLF School as 6th graders at Watsonville Charter School, who begins extensive fundraising at least a year prior to the program to send its students to WOLF School. The opportunity will again only be possible if the school can fundraise enough tuition or receive scholarship assistance.