Learning Landscapes is capturing national attention as a model for kid-centered community conservation that can be replicated in other communities.
Last summer, the national Land Trust Alliance (LTA) featured Learning Landscapes in its Saving Land magazine. Read the article: Nurturing a Conservation Ethic One Classroom at a Time
After leading several workshops at LTA's national "Land Trust Rally," Learning Landscapes coordinator Rob Wade is helping to lead LTA's national K-12 Community of Practice, as well as coaching other land trusts interested in our model. This year he has led two Webinars, is a regular contributor to their weekly blog, and this October he will have the distinction of leading a full-day seminar at the Rally in Pittsburgh.
Read more featured articles.
While our focus remains local, you can be proud that your support is inspiring communities across the country to create similar programs that grow young stewards. Thank you.
Growing “Mountain Kids” who Love, Understand, and Steward this Place
“We have a saying at our school--You’re a mountain kid,” says 2nd grade teacher, Aletha O’Kelley. “You’re a mountain kid if you’ve interacted with local plants and animals. You’ve seen them in the wild, you understand their ecology, and you’ve done projects to support them.”
Ms. O’Kelley and her colleagues at Chester Elementary School are using Learning Landscapes to pioneer Next Generation Science that’s rooted in mountain culture—Outdoor Core.
Across the curriculum, each grade learns ecology and stewardship through the eyes of a different organism: the garden, “creepy-crawlers” (invertebrates), reptiles and amphibians, mammals, trout, and birds, culminating in 6th grade with the Feather River Watershed “Plumas to the Pacific” experience. Next year, schools across the watershed will adapt Outdoor Core to their Learning Landscapes.
“Whether our kids stay or move away, they will understand things like, Where does our drinking water come from? What affects that resource?” says 4th grade teacher Nicholle Crowther. “My kids will never forget these experiences. Outdoor learning fosters critical thinking, creativity, fun, and a real-world context for learning.”
In 2015, schoolchildren and teachers in Portola, Loyalton, and Quincy gathered to dedicate new Learning Landscapes outdoor classrooms as special places for learning and land stewardship.
On the Portola High Tierra de los Venados Learning Landscape, students in Dave Valle’s 7th-12th grade science classes have been building trails, installing water guzzlers and wildlife cameras, hanging bird nesting boxes and monitoring them, designing and installing interpretive signs, and planting native plants.
“Kids spend way too much time inside. I involve them in the construction and maintenance of the place so that they feel a sense of ownership and will take care of it and the creatures that live here. The kids love it," says Mr. Valle. That love of place and ownership seems to be growing.
Christina Silva and Mikayla Quesenberry volunteered to map and design a sign for their Learning Landscape’s 1-km Manzanita Trail, noting points of interest like the amphitheater classroom, benches, and butterfly garden. The girls “like being outside and doing schoolwork at the same time.”
Seventh grader Jaden Bok mountain-bikes the trail with his friends, while 8th grader Margaret Canseco hikes the trail with her family. “It’s really peaceful,” she says. “I like how it has lots of nature and people don’t disturb it and want to keep it.”
It was a great way to finish out Quincy Junior/Senior High School's Centennial year. On June 5th, the entire student body gathered on their Learning Landscape outdoor classroom to express gratitude and to dedicate the Leonhardt Ranch Learning Landscape Barn to outdoor learning and love of place for generations of Quincy High students to come.
Student body president Matt Beeson surprised the crowd when he swung open the hay door and addressed his fellow students, extolling the beauty of the barn (and his girlfriend!).
"All of you who are going to be here next year, encourage your teachers to bring you out here. I don't think there's anything more beautiful - except Brooke [laughter and applause] - than this Barn with Spanish Peak in the background, the fields with the cows. We have just such a unique opportunity at Quincy High School, and I hope everyone gets to enjoy it equally."
With a generous gift from visionary local donors, Grant and Cindy Edwards, FRLT built the barn as a home base for student learning, agriculture education, and restoration projects on the Quincy Learning Landscape, adjacent to Quincy High School. And students and community volunteers have been planting native plants and removing invasives.
Quincy High principal Sue Segura, FRLT Executive Director Paul Hardy, former landowner Rick Leonhardt, and Learning Landscapes coordinator Rob Wade welcomed the students to their new barn, and outdoor learning, for years to come:
"This year marks 100 years of Quincy High School and the community investing in one another. This barn is built to last until the next centennial. None of us will be here then, but the Feather River Land Trust has protected this land - in perpetuity - for you and for every generation of Quincy High students to come." ~ Rob Wade
More Lands Dedicated to kids' Learning and love of place
That very week, students and teachers at Portola High School and Loyalton schools gathered to dedicate their Learning Landscapes outdoor classrooms as well.
Portola High School:
Teacher Dave Valle, with support from Rob Wade and Learning Landscapes, garnered support from the Plumas County Fish & Game Commission, Portola Rotary, Plumas Unified School District, generous local contractors, and community members to accomplish a tremendous amount with his 7th-12th grade students. From an outdoor amphitheater, to water guzzlers for wildlife, to an interpretive loop trail, Portola High has created an ideal habitat not only for area wildlife, but for kids' learning and stewardship ethic.
Valle says, "Having outdoor learning right out our classroom door - with no need for field trip permission slips, organizing transportation, funding - makes it possible to do field studies and restoration work with our students every day if we want." Read the feature article on what Dave and his students have accomplished.
Loyalton Elementary and Jr/Sr High Schools
In Loyalton, you helped us conserve the 142 acre Smithneck Meadows Learning Landscape. The property now has a seating area, a trail, signage, and a safe entry. Students and teachers have embraced unplugged learning enthusiastically.
Lucas, a Loyalton High student says this about outdoor learning: "I like learning first hand. It's interactive. You can look at it, touch it, feel it, hear it, and smell it. Using all of your senses implants it in every part of your brain."
Outdoor classrooms in every community in the Upper Feather region
Conserving and dedicating natural outdoor classrooms within walking distance of every school in the Feather River Watershed (13 schools!) and then enhancing them with the kinds of features that make it easy for teachers to bring their students outside, is essential to Learning Landscapes' strategy of instilling a love of place- and the knowledge and passion to care for it - in the children of the Feather River Country.
At Quincy High's barn dedication, Executive Director Paul Hardy spoke to students' sense of belonging and love for this place:
"Looking through the barn's door to Spanish Peak, at the headwaters of the Feather River, I think of how the river flows from the Plumas to the Pacific, bringing water to communities along the way. Like the Feather River, many of you will flow to other parts of the state when you graduate, and make great contributions. And like the water that evaporates from the Pacific to give us rain here, some of you will return to Quincy, and make your contribution here." ~ Paul Hardy
Want to help?
As we start the new school year, we need your financial help. Learning Landscapes is funded by the Land Trust, small family foundations, and generous donors like you.
Please give as generously as you can and help us grow the next generation of stewards for the Feather River Country. (Write "Learning Landscapes" in the Notes.) Thank you!
“I want kids to learn that we can have economically viable agricultural production and preserve our natural resources. We need to teach our kids how,” says local rancher Rick Leonhardt. In 2012, Rick and his wife Tiffany partnered with FRLT to conserve the Leonhardt Ranch Learning Landscape for Quincy's schoolchildren - forever.
The 46-acre ranch provides a unique, living classroom for students to explore, learn, conduct research, and become land stewards. With a visionary gift from local donors, FRLT is building an educational barn on the ranch as a home base for student learning, agriculture, and restoration projects.
With fourteen landowners like Rick and Tiffany, Learning Landscapes is conserving riparian, meadow, forest, and agricultural lands as outdoor classrooms for children throughout the Feather River Country. By creating opportunities for students to steward the same landscapes year after year, we hope to create a culture of care that students will carry with them for their lifetimes.
PARTNERSHIP MAKES CONSERVING OUTDOOR CLASSROOMS POSSIBLE:
Visionary landowners like the Leonhardt Family, CalTrans Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Mellam Family Foundation, Firedoll Foundation, Grant and Cindy Edwards, Frank and Helen Davis, and generous supporters like you.
Learning Landscapes is the Feather River Land Trust's conservation and education program designed to greatly enhance children’s contact with the natural world, place-based learning, and hands-on stewardship experiences. Founded in 2000 by local residents, the Feather River Land Trust has conserved more than 47,000 acres of private lands that support outstanding biodiversity, waterways, working ranches, recreation, children’s outdoor learning, and spectacular scenery.