Kids in Nature offers UCSB students the chance to mentor elementary school students in various scientific fields, engaging in interactive educational activities and field trips.

Now in its twelfth year, KIN regularly reaches out to local fifth-grade students at Franklin Elementary School and Adelante Charter School, teaching two classes at Franklin and one at Adelante. Students enrolled in EEMB 189 — taught by KIN Founder Jennifer Thorsch —can intern in the program for credit or a stipend. Currently, there are six mentors, with each assigned to a group of local fifth-graders for the year.

Thorsch, who is also the director of the Cheadle Center for Biological Diversity and Ecological Restoration, said the organization strives to educate younger generations through hands-on activities and meaningful trips, such as their most recent trip to the campus’s Marine Science Institute on Tuesday.

“I realized that elementary school students were not receiving much, if any, science education and I really felt that there was a lack of opportunity for children to learn science and the teachers did not have the time, the resources or the training to teach science,” Thorsch said. “Science is something that, if you try to teach it in the classroom out of textbooks, it doesn’t come alive for students.”

The first KIN trip gave younger students the opportunity to learn how to use scientific equipment like binoculars and microscopes at the Cheadle Center for Biological Diversity and Ecological Restoration, where they also learned fundamental botany principles — such as plant structure, pollination, and seed dispersal and development — and engaged in arts and craft activities.

The group has also visited the Coal Oil Point Reserve, where students bird- watch, learn about local beach plants and animals and observe the habitats of marine plants like algae and seaweed.

The most recent trip to the Marine Science Institute allowed students to learn about local wetlands and observe ocean currents and cloud formations that are simulated on a structure called the ‘the magic planet,’ which is essentially a globe attached to a projector.

During Spring Quarter, KIN takes their students to the Arroyo Hondo preserve, where they can learn about the life cycle of the steelhead trout and determine what invertebrates are present in the stream. KIN also takes students to the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens in the spring, allowing them to learn other botany lessons.

For the final day of the program, students are expected to prepare a Powerpoint presentation composed of drawings, diagrams, and essays that demonstrate what they’ve learned.

According to Thorsch, the program adheres to state standards but relies on unique methods to teach students.

“We have a theme that goes through every activity and builds on the previous activity, so we’re reinforcing concepts they’ve learned and introduce new concepts,” Thorsch said. “All of the activities we do with the students are aligned with the California and national standards and the environmental curriculum.”

Lindsey Bennett, a fourth-year environmental studies major, said she enjoys working with children in the program.

“At the beginning of the year, [the kids] were really timid and shy and now they’re really comfortable talking to me and asking me questions,” Bennett said. “This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in education, the environment, or ecology.”

Additionally, Thorsch said UCSB students have made personal connections with the elementary school students enrolled in the program.

“The relationship we build between the undergrad UCSB students and the fifth grade students is invaluable,” Thorsch said. “The fifth-grade students believe they too can go to college; the mentors are role models for them.”

While Thorsch said the program recently received a grant of $7,500 from Southern California Gas Company, it needs approximately $40,000 more to pay for next year’s transportation and supplies for students and mentors, as well as for the native plant gardens at the schools.

A version of this article appeared on page 3 of January 24th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.