The Chancellor’s Outreach Advisory Board at UCSB recently allocated an additional $10,000 to its “Kids in Nature” program, guaranteeing at least another year of operation for the freshly created program

“Kids in Nature” targets approximately 240 fourth, fifth and sixth-grade students from under-funded districts in North Santa Barbara County in an attempt to connect elementary school students with university-level study of the environment. Over the course of the school year, students go on four field trips to the local Sedgwick Reserve, in which they are able to study native plant botany, learn about habitat restoration, and participate in local species preservation.

Students from the Guadelupe, Lompoc and Santa Maria-Bonita school districts also have visited the UCSB campus Museum of Systematics and Ecology, where they had the opportunity to talk with people in the Biology and Environmental Science Depts. Nancy Emerson, the program’s outreach coordinator and an administrative assistant in the Chemical Engineering Dept., said “Kids In Nature” has been a success.

“One of the virtues of this program is that it is very hands-on,” she said, “which is good for all types of students, especially those just learning English, who have English as a second language. We’re teaching students the power of observation – that makes it a kind of learning that helps students with many different learning styles get an understanding of what is going on in the environment around them.”

Emerson credits much of the program’s success to the volunteers and the natural preserves of the local area.

“It’s amazing the dedication these people have,” she said. “What happens when these people go to the [Sedgwick] reserve is that they fall in love with it. Students, teachers, adults – it happens over and over again. It’s just an exceptionally neat place.”

The Chancellor’s Outreach Advisory Board provides funds to students and staff who want to create outreach programs that target educationally under-served K-12 students in order to encourage them to pursue higher education. Adjunct professor Jennifer Thorsch of the Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology Dept.says that “Kids in Nature” has helped spark many students’ interest in the sciences.

“The impact it had on these kids was tremendous,” she said. “One student said he was going to work harder in school because he wanted to be a biology teacher.”

Thorsch said the students have learned a variety of different nature skills over the year, including recording data on rainfall, monitoring plant growth, and observing different species of local birds.

“One of the main components of this project is the multiple visits,” she said. “Learning about plants and animals, actually planting, and then measuring their work, it’s hands-on. And I think that’s what makes the project so unique and special.”

On May 14, the program plans to host its very first Kids in Nature Celebration, at which all 240 students will have the opportunity to go to the reserve and share what they’ve learned with their peers. Sheila Whitefield, a fifth-grade teacher at Adams Elementary School in Santa Barbara, says the students have learned a lot and are looking forward to the final trip to the reserve.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” she said. “For students who have not experienced a university or nature, it really just lets them experience something new and important.”

Emerson said the program is always expanding to include more interactions with UCSB students, especially in environmental and science-related departments.

“We’re hoping to do a second visit to the campus involving students who tour elementary students at the campus,” she said. “We’d be happy to have students come out to the reserve to get the training and help out.”