Nature Center Teams Up with AmeriCorps
to Bring Back Student Field Trips
After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, North Mountain Park Nature Center successfully brought back hands-on outdoor field trips to Rogue Valley students!
Thanks to a matching-funds grant from United Communities AmeriCorps and a passionate AmeriCorps service member, this spring’s field trips gave 442 Rogue Valley students an opportunity learn about their environment while helping them make positive changes in their ecological community.
Since the park’s inception, in 1999, the Nature Center has offered elementary field trips at North Mountain Park. Before the pandemic, the school programs were utilizing over 1,000 volunteer hours to teach up to 80 field trips each year.
Currently, staffing reductions within Parks and Recreation have made it difficult to offer the environmental education programs that students, teachers and volunteers have come to love. At the same time, park maintenance needs more volunteers to help maintain North Mountain Park’s diverse ecosystems.
Service Learning field trips are a great solution!
North Mountain Park Nature Center offers free Service Learning programs for 3rd through 12 grade. Students participate in a hands-on, outdoor learning session, then give back to the park through a related stewardship project.
Late last year, the Nature Center staff applied for and secured an AmeriCorps service member, to help bring back field trip programing to some extent. Mikaela Lea, a passionate environmentalist and community organizer, became our Service Learning Program Leader. She was responsible for planning and executing two programs each week throughout the spring season.
While working toward Mikaela’s professional development goals, the team prepared exciting hands-on curriculum. This spring the Nature Center offered lessons about the park’s bird diversity and an activity which inspired students to create Environmental Art.
Teachers have never been more passionate about getting their students learning outdoors! When registration opened, the 19 field trip slots were reserved within hours, with teachers clamoring to be placed on the waiting list.
Mikaela coordinated the help of 11 volunteer instructors and helped train them to lead service activities and facilitate inquiry-based, outdoor lessons. Since the kick-off in March, Service Learning field trips have served 442 students from four school districts throughout our region!
The park welcomed elementary students from the Ashland schools of Helman, Walker, Bellview, and John Muir School, as well as classes from Talent, Mae Richardson Elementary and Ruch Outdoor Community School. Young students learned to use binoculars and exercised curiosity, developing scientific questions about the many bird species they saw on site.
Mikaela's team of volunteers were delighted to serve middle-schoolers from Madrone Trail and Hanby Middle School. Several classes learned about the principles of Environmental Art as an artistic movement and a form of creative expression. Students built their own mandalas, fairy houses and installations that symbolized their relationship with nature.
High school field trips included bird surveys, with students from Crater Renaissance Academy and Central Medford High School, investigating bird diversity and abundance in the park's many habitats. As always, field trips encouraged scientific thinking and supported the Next Generation Science Standards.
With Mikaela’s help, these programs contributed 556 volunteer stewardship hours to maintain the Natural Areas at North Mountain Park. This contribution equates to over 3 months of full-time maintenance labor in the Park’s diverse wildlife habitat. Huge swaths of flammable Himalayan blackberry were removed, stretches of stream banks were cleared of invasive species, and trails were maintained for public access.
Mikaela is wrapping up her AmeriCorps service term at the end of July. North Mountain Park has given her professional experience with community organizing, volunteer coordination and environmental education. She is excited to develop her career in these directions.
Like so many other volunteers and interns, Mikaela will bring North Mountain Park’s gifts of service and sustainability into her future life.