- Author: Linda Forbes
University of California Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth Development Program in Santa Clara County partnered with multiple community organizations to hold a 4-H Nature Explorers Day Camp at Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy in East San Jose from July 17 to July 21.
Organizers wanted to reach more participants this year than they had in the inaugural 2022 camp, so they structured the program for different K-8 grade levels to attend on different days. 79 campers participated, which was a 130% increase over the number of campers last year.
“Everything we did during the week was focused on environmental science,” said Susan Weaver, 4-H Regional Program Coordinator. “We partnered with Project Learning Tree, UC Environmental Stewards, UC Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC– as well as community agencies related to the natural environment.”
Numerous activities engaged the youths such as field trips; demonstrations; and sessions themed around trees as habitats, birds and bugs, and being “leaf detectives.” 4-H Adult Volunteer, Laura Tiscareno, took charge of the hands-on Project Learning Tree sessions. Craft time included making nature-themed wind chimes and spinning paper snakes.
Bilingual teen camp counselors guided small groups of students for the duration of the day camp. In situations where the adult facilitator did not speak Spanish, teens translated information into Spanish for students with less English confidence.
“These kids call me ‘teacher' and it's awesome,” said Rodrigo, one of the counselors. “The camp benefits me a lot because I connect with children and in the future, I can even be a teacher if I wanted to.”
Another counselor, Andrea, learned about communication. “It's a bit different with kids at different age levels,” she said. “Since we had kindergarten through eighth grade, we had to switch our tactics from grade to grade so that they would understand us and we'd be able to understand them. Also learning how to bond with them so that they would pay more attention.
One highlight of the week was a field trip for third through eighth graders to the Master Gardeners location at Martial Cottle Park, where students learned about vermicomposting and made their own individual countertop worm habitat and composter.
Campers especially enjoyed the interactive demonstrations. “My favorite part is going on all the field trips because we went to a garden, and we've been catching worms and doing stuff about worms,” said one student. “It's really fun going on trips.”
Another camper said, “Something I would like to change about camp is having more time here.”
The program culminated in a Nature Camp Festival at Escuela Popular in partnership with community agencies. Youth enjoyed games, meeting reptiles, outdoor science activities, arborist crafts, a “Rethink Your Drink” table to make a fresh fruit drink, tamales, a nacho bar and more.
Representatives from the Silicon Valley Wildlife Center discussed animals that live in local neighborhoods and how the Center supports people to keep the animals safe. Victor Mortari of Vexotic Me talked about and showed snakes, spiders, scorpions, and other creatures, making the kids squeal while learning about them. As a fun added bonus, 4-H Community Educator Zubia Mahmood arranged to have a local team come to teach soccer skills as a healthy living activity.
The event increased the youth's interest in environmental education and involved Latino youth and adults who are new to 4-H – representing a community that has not historically benefited from the 4-H program. The teen teachers also increased their leadership and career readiness skills; post-camp surveys showed that all the teen counselors see 4-H as a place where they can be a leader and help make group decisions. Some campers noted in the survey that they wanted the camp to be every day, all summer!
National 4-H funded the camp in 2022 and 2023, allowing organizers to provide meals, T-shirts, water bottles and other items to foster belonging and promote healthy living. Community partners, crucial to the program's success, included the Boys and Girls Club of Silicon Valley, Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy, Silicon Valley Water and Silicon Valley Wildlife Center.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Youth in California will know the thrill of the find as they search out and observe birds in their own communities. The children will be taking part in the UC Cooperative Extension 4-H program's pilot study of new birding curriculum developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Cornell has long offered “Bird Sleuth” materials for use in schools. Now they have branched out to informal educational settings by writing two new curricula, “Habitat Connections” and “Nature Detectives,” which are being pilot-tested in California, New York and Illinois.
“We'll be getting kids to start observing things in nature, making a record and sharing their data with the repository at the Lab of Ornithology,” Schmitt-McQuitty said. “As we go through the monthly meetings, we'll keep a running total of the species we see.”
The classes aren't just about spotting birds and identifying them. The curriculum weaves in a greater understanding of science and environment with sessions on habitat, the food web and bird survival. Each meeting begins with an optional one-hour bird hike, adding outdoor exercise and nature observation to the science activities.
Over the course of the program, the children will identify a habitat need for wildlife at Hollister Hills. At the final class, they will be out in the field addressing the need by placing nesting boxes, planting native plants, removing invasive species or some other habitat improvement.
Other California counties involved in the pilot study are Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Diego and Orange. Cornell received a grant from the Noyce Foundation to create and test the curriculum. Representatives from the Ithaca, N.Y., school traveled to California to offer train-the-trainer instruction to 4-H advisors, program representatives and volunteer project leaders.
The curriculum comes in two versions: Nature Detectives, the one to be implemented by Schmitt-McQuitty in San Benito County, and Habitat Connections, which is adapted for afterschool programs.
4-H community educator in Orange County, Jason Suppes, will coordinate the pilot study of Habitat Connections in an Anaheim affordable housing development, Pradera Apartment Homes. Unlike Nature Detectives, in which each monthly class builds on previous lessons, Habitat Connections lessons stand on their own. The format is ideal for the Pradera program, which doesn't attract all the same children to each meeting.
“I don't expect the kids to all become avid birdwatchers, but I'll be pleased if they are able to identify one or two birds in their community,” Suppes said. “They'll get a greater sense about the environment where they live and what they can do to have an impact on the environment.”
The majority Pradera residents are of Latino descent, and most have had few opportunities to learn about nature. Because of the shifting demographics in California to a population with Latinos representing the largest segment, the stewardship of the state's open spaces and public lands could be passed to people who haven't had access or developed an interest.
“Some of these kids never leave their city block,” Suppes said. “Everywhere in the county, we're within 15 miles of the mountains or the ocean. The majority have never seen either one. In 4-H, we're shaping a new generation of land stewards.”
An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Stratetic Vision 2025.