May 30, 2023
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Over the course of four warm, sunny spring days last week the third and fourth grade students of the South Lake Tahoe and Zephyr Cove elementary schools enjoyed a special field trip known as “Children’s Forest” at Tallac Historic Site.
This yearly event is run by the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition, which is a collaborative network of over 25 local agencies and nonprofits that work together to put on environmental programs for all grade levels of the South Lake Tahoe school system. STEEC member organizations send representatives to each field trip to teach lessons aligned with their work.
This year’s Children’s Forest program for third graders featured lessons on the water cycle and conservation, Washoe history, plant identification and traditional uses and dendrochronology.
South Tahoe Public Utility District’s CivicSpark AmeriCorps volunteer Elsa Erling taught an interactive lesson on water use and conservation.
She said, “I’m teaching about the biggest local users of water, like ski resorts and hotels, and it’s cool to hear their ideas about how to save water and connect it back to their daily life.”
Local Master Gardener David Long instructed the students take up clipboards, pencils and paper and led them on a plant walk where he described Washoe uses for incense cedar, snowplant, wild strawberry and many other common plants of the Tahoe Basin. The children took copious notes and did their best to draw the plants for future identification. Tahoe’s budding young botanists loved this lesson.
As Audre of the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School, Long said of this lesson, “The plants were my favorite because we learned about how the Washoe used them for medicine. Like toothaches (snowplant) and upset stomach (strawberry leaves) and stuff.”
Lannette Rangel of the USDA Forest Service taught the students about Washoe history and stories; her lesson involved taking the students down to the lakeshore and a fun game. She was surprised that many students expressed that they do not get to go to the lake often and was glad to offer them this special treat.
Tressa Gibbard of the Sugar Pine Foundation taught the youngsters about tree identification, forest health and dendrochronology. In this lesson, the students especially enjoyed getting to use the increment borer – a tool which extracts a pencil-like “core sample” of wood with all of the tree’s rings when screwed into the trunk – to determine the age of a tree.
The fourth grade lessons on Tahoe’s Historical and Modern Transportation Systems, Tree Biology, Living with Fire, and Aquatic Invasive Species were equally engaging and fun for the young learners.
Tony Bova and Beau Diamond from the Forest Service taught about the history of clearcutting Tahoe’s forests in the Comstock Era, the need for forest management, and the difference between “good” and “bad” fires in forest ecosystems. Students also learned about how local plants and animals have adapted to fires. This living with fire lesson also involved an educational frisbee game to illustrate fire behavior in a healthy forest compared to an unhealthy one.
STPUD employees Abi Lloyd and Jennifer Cressy taught about tree biology and systems by having students act out the different parts and functions of a tree. Remember what the heartwood, cambium, xylem and phloem are from Biology 101? If not, ask a current fourth grader.
A rotating group of educators from the Sierra Nevada Alliance, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Tahoe Environmental Research Center taught about Tahoe’s Historical and Modern Transportation Systems as they relate to the carbon cycle and our carbon footprints. This new lesson was a hit with students because it involved a trip inside the Historic Tallac Boathouse, which houses some old wooden boats.
When asked about the highlights of the day, Walker from the fourth grade said, “I had fun because we got to move around and go in the boat building! I can’t believe we get to go places like that.”
Haley Lazar from the Tahoe Resource Conservation District taught students about aquatic invasive species like the zebra and quagga mussels and New Zealand mudsnail through a game of musical chairs.
Bijou Elementary School teacher Arcelia Politron commented that, “The students enjoyed learning about native and non-native species. Many of them didn’t know that quagga mussels are destructive.”
This and other lessons were new to the Children’s Forest curriculum and all were received with great enthusiasm by students and teachers alike. Special thanks to Herman Fillmore (Wá∙šiw), culture/language resources director of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California for his inputs to the lessons covering Washoe history, stories, and traditional uses of plants.
The LTESMS staff summed everything up by stating, “The Children’s Forest field trip to the Tallac Historic Site was an engaging educational experience for our third and fourth grade students. The students were immersed in education about Washoe Native Americans, native plants and trees as well as water use in the Tahoe basin. Our students were able to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of our natural resources and cultural heritage.”
The students clearly thrived on and enjoyed being outdoors in the beautiful weather as they investigated the natural world and absorbed the hands-on lessons.
Asked to comment on the field trip, Derek Bowles, a third grade teacher at Bijou Elementary, gratefully reflected that it was, “nice and interactive with games and getting the students down to the lake,” and added, “Awesome as always.”