For teacher Dave Valle, teaching kids outdoors is nothing new. The Portola Jr./Sr. High science teacher has been taking groups of students on outdoor learning adventures for years. But when Rob Wade of FRLT's Learning Landscapes program saw an opportunity to help facilitate a mutually beneficial land swap that resulted in Portola High gaining 12 acres of land right on its campus, Valle's vision for outdoor learning skyrocketed.

Jr High Students

Dave Valle's junior high Forest Ecology class installs water guzzlers for wildlife and motion cameras

"Getting the 12 acres was huge," Valle comments. "It enables us as teachers to do so much more. 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."

The property, which is at the base of Beckwourth Peak, is an old fire area with conifer regeneration, brush, and excellent habitat for a remarkable diversity of wildlife. 

Valle adds, "Having the property enables me to incorporate the land into my curriculum. For example, the fire based program we're learning with field trips to the Storrie Fire site with the Forest Service, we are mimicking and creating an ongoing curriculum right here on our campus."

Students Take a Lead in Creating Outdoor Classroom

Since the land swap was brokered, Valle has led the charge to create an ideal learning habitat for kids. While generous funding from the Stewardship Council has enabled building outdoor classrooms for the majority of Learning Landscapes sites in the Feather River Watershed, the funding was limited to communities within the Pacific Gas & Electric service area (which Portola isn't). Valle, with support from Rob Wade, has 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:

  • Ben Harston's shop class contructed benches for an outdoor classroom amphitheater. Contractor Mike Wilcox is building a stage and Rotary installed a nice wooden archway as an entrance. 

  • Students installed nesting bird boxes that birds took to right away.

  • Valle's junior high forest ecology class installed two 500 gallon wildlife water guzzlers and four remote wildlife cameras, enhancing habitat and enabling a wildlife census.

  • Brad Miller's Fire Science class thinned conifers to regenerate an aspen grove. They have established photo points to monitor changes.

  • Students are constructing a 1km interpretive loop trail with benches along the way. And it's not only benefiting students - Neighbors love it too. 

  • Volunteers Jerry & Terri Williams led students in an Audubon birdcount for the property.

  • Heavy duty picnic benches make for a great lunch spot.

Kids & Creatures

Enthusiasm for outdoor learning on campus is building. The wildlife guzzlers and remote cameras are enabling a census of wildife on campus. Students and teachers alike get excited when they see photos of bears, deer, squirrels, diverse birds, skunks, feral cats, foxes, and other wildlife like this one: 

Fox at wildlife water guzzler

and this one: 

For Valle, outdoor learning is central to his teaching style. "My main focus is to try to get kids outside. The learning is important, but even moreso I want kids to appreciate the outdoors and the creatures right here in their backyard. 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."

Want to help? There's still much to be done on the campus - finish work on the trail and the amphitheater, GPS mapping of the property for trailhead sign, and interpretive signage for the loop trail. Your gift to can make a big difference - Click here and designate your gift to Learning Landscapes. Thank you!

Thursday, July 10, 2014