Environmental Education: An Integrative Approach
Inherent in the Friends’ program is the unique opportunity to experience the wetlands as an outdoor classroom. Programs utilize the Ballona Wetlands as a laboratory where students learn about ecology, stewardship, and brainstorm solutions to current issues as we move into an era of significant environmental challenges.
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Many youth, especially those from dense urban areas of Los Angeles, have never experienced as much natural space as they do at Ballona. Here, students see creatures they have never seen before; a sand beetle, a native butterfly, a great blue heron, a fish underwater. Students learn to interpret the wetlands through their own perspective. They see the mountains that form our watershed, and understand that Hollywood, Inglewood, Culver City, and Ladera Heights are all connected not only to each other, but to our rivers and ocean, and all the life within.
FBW staff and docents introduce Ballona-based concepts in earth sciences, natural and cultural history, formation and functions of estuaries, connecting to our watershed, the importance of native habitats, and environmental stewardship and philosophy. Activities are adaptable, depending on the grade level and focus of the class. For example, an art college may focus on the aesthetic of shapes, textures, and color as they move through Ballona, or some high school students might experiment with water testing or volunteer for extensive habitat restoration projects. Middle school students learn about native plant adaptations and functions, while elementary school students love learning about the native Tongva people and experiencing the inside of the Ki-ish, a traditional Tongva dwelling. The personal attention and flexibility in the FBW program facilitates a meaningful experience for participants.
Connecting to current global environmental issues, the Friends programs link the watershed to the river, wetlands, and ocean. In addition to wetland ecology and natural history of Los Angeles, participants learn about the Central Pacific Gyre, an area of the ocean estimated to be twice the size of Texas which is inundated with plastics: over six times more plastic than plankton, and growing. After getting through shock and questions such as “why don’t they clean it up”, groups discuss the problem and learn about helpful alternatives to the use of plastics.
Through this process of lecture, discussion, direct observation, and service learning, students begin to understand the impact of our actions upon our environment. They become empowered to make positive changes as teachers and activists in their families and their communities.
Since 1990 the Audubon Society has offered tours of the Ballona Wetlands for children grades 3 - 6. More than 40,000 children have participated in the program, which offers an opportunity for students to see the last major salt marsh in Los Angeles County and to learn about the native plants, insects, birds and marine invertebrates that inhabit this beautiful natural environment. During the children's two hour walk of the wetlands the students have an opportunity to use microscopes to observe live microorganisms which are carefully collected and returned alive to the wetlands. Audubon leaders and docents guide the students through all the stations of the program, which includes hands-on restoration work in the wetlands, learning about the history of the Ballona watershed, wetlands ecology and the food chain, viewing birds through spotting scopes and binoculars, and leaving with an Audubon educational booklet on the wetlands to remember their experience.