This week, volunteer educators from the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition (STEEC) engaged third and fourth graders from four different elementary schools in place-based environmental education. Students were brought to the Tallac Historic site and led around various stations across the site, participating in lessons on local history, watersheds, fire resilience, and trees while interacting with their environment at each station.
Kelsey Carapia from the U.S. Forest Service greeted excited groups of students as they unboarded their buses each morning at the Tallac Historic Site. Early on in the season, the students were fortunate to have the site essentially to themselves and were eager to explore and learn as they moved through multiple stations in small groups.
Sitting on a sunny patch of grass overlooking the lake, Lauren Benefield from the South Tahoe Public Utility District (STPUD) spoke to students about watersheds and pollutants at her station. Then, students participated in an activity where they designed a hypothetical lakefront property. The students were given items to represent the potential pollutants from their property and passed them down the line and into a bucket representing the lake. Students reflected on how the pollution of the watershed and of the lake is accumulated from the actions of everyone and brainstormed how they can do their part to conserve their environment.
When students rotated to the Washoe Tending and Gathering Garden station, they were given the opportunity to learn about Washoe history, while also learning how to identify a number of native plants. After discussing the importance of plant identification, students spread out across the garden to practice observing, identifying, and creating botanical drawings of native plants.
“I want to learn to identify more plants!” one third-grader reflected, clutching in his hand a detailed drawing of the Sierra Currant, where he had correctly labeled the type of leaf margins and noted down the ways in which the Washoe used this plant.
Other stations included lessons on fire resilience, tree biology and systems, historical and modern transit, and the aquatic food web. At each station, representatives from local conservation organizations engaged students and brought unique perspectives from their own work. Volunteers for this week’s events came from STPUD, the City, the Sierra Nevada Alliance, TRPA, TERC, the League, Tahoe RCD, and UC Master Gardeners.
The South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition is a collaborative network of more than 25 local agencies who work together toward the mission of bringing environmental education resources to the Lake Tahoe Basin. STEEC has partnered with the Lake Tahoe Unified School District since 2008 to provide place-based and experiential learning in various outdoor settings.
“This week’s STEEC event was a great way for the youth of Tahoe to learn not only about the history of the land but to also learn how they will impact its history as well,” said STPUD’s CivicSpark Fellow, Jocelyn Valencia.
The Coalition runs educational programs for students of various ages throughout all seasons. The lessons taught to utilize the environment they are taught in give the students tangible experiences to connect to what they learn. In the winter, students are given the opportunity to venture atop Heavenly Mountain Resort. Throughout June, STEEC will continue to bring students around the lake to allow them to learn about their natural environment while being immersed in it.