A Story of … A Passion for Outdoor Education and Environmental Science

Bringing the Outdoors.... Indoors!
Rich Boschetti, DPIE Academy Director
October 23, 2020

Students in the district have shared with DPIE that one of their favorite things about elementary school was when they had a chance to spend a week in 5th grade outdoor camp.  However, with the advent of the COVID pandemic, that opportunity has been lost for many students not only in Dublin Schools but nation-wideAccording to former Dougherty Elementary Principal, Brett Nelson ....Well kinda, sorta!” 

Brett Nelson, Sly Park Camp Director

When Mr. Nelson left the Dublin School District two years ago, he did so to celebrate his passion for the outdoors. “I was offered the opportunity to be the Director of Sly Park Camp in the El Dorado Forest which is about 60 miles east of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.  It was a perfect opportunity for me to be in an outdoor educational environment and get to spend a full week with 5th grade students and their teachers from the Sacramento area to explore and learn about the environment.”

Sly Park Brings Outdoor Camp to Zoom

“When the pandemic hit, most schools in California could no longer send their kids to outdoor education programs like ours. This is really tragic!” He cited a study recently conducted and published by the Lawrence Hall of Science which stated “nearly 4 million students have missed out on over 9.5 million hours of science and environmental education”.  This was not acceptable to the staff of Sly Park Camp and they decided to do something about it.  “If we couldn’t bring kids to camp, we would bring Sly Park Camp to the kids in a distance learning format”, said Mr Nelson.

With a passion to teach science and to develop good environmental citizens, the Sly Park staff pivoted and are now offer weekly one-hour classes to students in Northern California. Better news yet, Mr. Nelson and Sly Park have partnered with the DPIE After School Program and are offering their Outdoor Camp program via Zoom to students in the DUSD as part of the winter session.

During the 10-week course, students will learn how to work like scientists in their own backyard. They will begin to think, observe the outside world, then collect and analyze data just like an environmental scientist would while working in the wild. As scientists, students will understand the movement of matter, creek ecosystems, forest ecology and the importance that organisms play in ecosystems. Next time you go camping, you will look at the woods with completely different eyes!

Students Will Connect with Nature Through Discovery

Todd “Grizzly” Gillihan who has been working at Sly Park as a certified teacher since 2005 explained his excitement for the After School Program this way, “What excites me the most about this opportunity to work with students in a distance learning format, is that I get to bring a virtual nature experience to them in their own home.  Engaging students with place-based learning opportunities will allow them to explore their own communities and connect with nature through discovery this fall and so far, has been a very positive experience. Even though students are not at Sly Park, I really feel they are learning about nature in their own communities and that is exciting.”

Ginger Schlavin, a veteran teacher at Sly Park said, “With students not able to come to Sly Park it has been exciting to discover a new way to bring the Sly Park environment to the indoors.  I am finding that the greatest take-away for students is that they are developing their ability to do science on their own and in their own communities. During our 10-week program that we are offering through DPIE, the kids move through the inquiry process, learn about their own neighborhood and greatly enhance their understanding of ecosystems.”

As Mr. Nelson said, “if we can’t bring the kids to camp, let’s bring the camp to the kids.” DPIE loves the idea of allowing Dublin students the opportunity to enjoy the camp experience from the comfort of their own home. This Sly Park Zoom class can help students learn about California eco-systems and help them become better environmental citizens. This is definitely a class where what students learn, can last a lifetime.

Click here to see the course description and enroll.