STEEC program for South Lake Tahoe and Zephyr Cove students gets them learning outdoors

Alissa Zertuche and Michelle McLean, CTE Specialists, LTUSD

NEVADA BEACH, Nev. – Over four days in early June close to 800 students engaged in an array of fun educational activities at Nevada Beach. All K-2nd graders of South Lake Tahoe and Zephyr Cove elementary schools enjoyed the yearly field trip, ‘Woods, Water, Wildlife.’ This event is organized and run by the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition (STEEC), a collaborative network of over 25 local agencies.

‘Woods, Water, Wildlife’ educates and introduces children to the local ecosystems and habitats of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Students learn stewardship while taking part in exciting activities which help them to make direct connections with nature. Lake Tahoe Unified School District CTE Specialist, Alissa Zertuche assists in the coordination of the field trip. She said, “These outdoor learning opportunities are important for all of our students, being in nature, connecting with the world in a tangible way while learning and having fun.”

The students definitely had some fun! During the field trip, each grade level took part in three lessons focusing on 1. Woods, 2. Water and 3. Wildlife.

Kinder enjoyed their three stations in the cool shade of the forest this year as the meadow remained flooded. At ‘Groundwater is Great’ a station run by South Tahoe Public Utility Department (STPUD), students began to understand where water is from and how it is cleaned by nature.

Meanwhile, over at ‘Animals are Amazing’ the United States Forest Service (USFS) instructed the students in difficult concepts related to ‘wild and domesticated’ in a fun way which included a camouflage game. “Love that activity,” said Ms. Miller, a Kindergarten teacher.

Finally, at the ‘Trees: Exploring Habitats’ station run by Sierra Nevada Alliance, students could be found happily foraging in the forest creating ‘habitats’. When asked what he was doing, Ducky, a Sierra House student, excitedly informed the group that he was building an ant home with a lot of sticks which would help to protect the ants and hide them from other creatures.

Down at the beach 1st and 2nd grades were set up and ready to learn. At the 1st grade section the Great Basin Institute, the USFS, and Sierra Nevada Alliance taught students all about the different parts of a tree for ‘Tree Factory’ – always a top favorite – introducing big scientific words through a fun tree-building activity to help the little ones learn and remember.

Two new lessons were introduced this year, one by STPUD, ‘No New Water’, which focused on helping students to understand where our water is, how much we have, and why that matters – because it really does matter!

The second new lesson was taught by Tahoe Environmental Research Center where students excitedly learned about ‘aquatic invasive species’ while getting their wiggles out through a fast-moving lesson where they acted out different aquatic species in the sand. A fun way to learn difficult concepts and understand a major issue in Lake Tahoe.

2nd-grade lessons were taught by the USFS, UC Davis Master Gardeners, and Tahoe Resource Conservation District including ‘Meet the Tree’ where students learned about the needs of a tree while pretending to be trees with the USFS staff. One takeaway surprised many of the kids that fire can be good for forests!

At the TRCD station students took time to rest and reflect as they were taught about watersheds and also how pollutants can affect the lake. Finally, UC Davis Master Gardeners focused on teaching about the symbiotic relationships between plants and animals and instructed students on the importance of pollination through a fun game. The joyful smiles on the students’ faces said it all – being outside, playing games and learning is the best recipe for engagement!

Many of the lessons this year are new or recently updated by STEEC working in collaboration with the CTE LTUSD team; the changes have been a huge success and much appreciated by LTUSD staff.

“The field trip was wonderful, and it was so nice to be outside with the students,” said staff. “The presenters did a great job of keeping the subject matter accessible for young kids and they were excited and well-informed. It was definitely a bonus to be so close to the lake!”

LTUSD would like to thank all of its community partners.

“Without the collaborative efforts of STEEC, these experiences would not be possible. Our partners are committed to and support high-quality environmental science for all of our students. Thank you also to the ‘California Tahoe Conservancy’ for providing us with funding for transportation,” said Alissa Zertuche and Michelle McLean, CTE Specialists, LTUSD.

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