NCOS - A Big New Outdoor Classroom

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 09:40 -- jeremiahbender

As a large, yellow school bus pulled up to the parking lot, 45 fifth graders gazed out the windows with curiosity and awe. For most, it was their first time visiting an estuary of this sort. Excited voices chattered and little fingers pointed out at the egrets and herons wading in the nearby shallow waters. The 5th graders were eager and ready to meet their UCSB mentors and set out to explore the newly re-created wetland ecosystem. CCBER staff and students stood aside readily awaiting their arrival, sporting binoculars, hand picks, and already muddy boots and clothes. We walked from the bus toward the slough and gathered for an introduction.

"Everything we did today really reinforced what we are learning in the classroom. It was a perfect field trip" - Linda Sterling, 4th grade teacher at Peabody Charter School

Our field trip started with a story: many locals, even if fluent in Spanish, aren't aware that "goleta" translates to "schooner," a type of large sailing boat. A goleta sunk in the Goleta Slough in the late 1700s, giving Goleta its modern name. The estuary once covered most of what is now the city of Goleta, and Devereux Slough extended much farther to the north. "Imagine taking a boat all the way to Hollister. That's how vast the wetlands here used to be before they were filled in," we told the students. "But wetlands are stinky and filled with mosquitoes and we don't really need them anyway, right?" Wrong - some students were quick to correct me as they've learned that wetlands are a habitat with many important functions. They learned that the historic upper half of Devereux Slough was destroyed to build a golf course and that they are taking part in the restoration of that wetland.

"I had a lot of fun bird watching. I have never bird watched before. Now I think that I'm going to go bird watching more often." - 6th grade Isla Vista student

The field trip continued as the students were divided into small groups and hiked out into the wetland, guided by CCBER staff and a handful of UCSB student volunteers and parent chaperones. One group was given binoculars and field guides and marched out in search of birds while another group received gloves and hand trowels and were shown how to plant native seedlings. A third group circled around a hand built mud model of a watershed to experiment with storm water run-off. The groups of elementary school students rotated through a handful of other activities covering topics such as wetland plant adaptations, food webs, and invertebrate fauna. The activities are fun, hands-on, and place-based, giving the kids a refreshing learning experience outside and connecting them to the local environment. We overheard kids saying things like "Watching birds is so relaxing," and "Can we stay here all day?" This is how a typical visit to the North Campus Open Space (NCOS) has been going for the students. They will leave tired, hungry for lunch, and a bit muddy, but hopefully with an awakened sense of place, with some new knowledge of their backyard, and an appreciation for environmental stewardship after helping to restore their local wetland.  

"My students enjoyed every minute at the Devereux Slough! Each station was educational and fun. They learned so much and found a greater appreciation of their 'backyard'" - Kimberly Young, 6th grade teacher at Isla Vista Elementary

Behind the scenes, the field trips have been designed over the years by faculty, staff and UCSB students through CCBER's environmental education program, Kids in Nature (KIN), and its more recent extension program (KIN2). KIN is a year-long experience for a handful of local elementary school classrooms that is facilitated through UCSB's Nature and Science Education Practicum (EEMB 189/ENVS 191) - a quarter-long course for undergrads interested in learning to teach environmental science and education. With funding from the State Coastal Conservancy, KIN2 was designed and implemented in recent years to expand the number of schools reached by the program, providing one-time field trips to dozens more classrooms per year (read more about the KIN2 program at NCOS in this story we featured earlier this year). CCBER's K-12 science curriculum is developed to align with national science standards (NGSS) and to address the needs of underserved classrooms in the Santa Barbara area. KIN and KIN2 have partnered through the years with other local organizations to provide structured field trips to Coal Oil Point Reserve, UCSB's REEF (Research Experience and Education Facility), the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and Arroyo Hondo Preserve.

Since NCOS is a relatively new field trip site, the curriculum is being adapted and refined to teach the specific flora and fauna of the unique wetland ecosystem and to utilize the ongoing restoration and research for educational opportunities. In the last calendar year, KIN and KIN2 have facilitated NCOS field trips to over 700 K-12 students from over 30 classrooms in the Santa Barbara area as well as a handful of after school programs. We plan to keep both programs running strongly into the future, with many field trips already in the works for 2019.

Teachers and/or programs interested in scheduling field trips can contact Andy Lanes: for more information.

Students learn about restoration planting as part of the KIN program at NCOS.

Story by KIN2 Coordinator Andy Lanes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - 09:15