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Three elementary students crouch down around a native plant being placed in the dirt and look up at the camera.

Education for the Next Generation!

Words By Simon Breen | Education Director
Originally printed in the Watershed Voice Fall/Winter 2021 edition.

From our modest beginnings as an all-volunteer crew providing outdoor education programming to approximately 250 students a year, the Conservancy now has two full-time and four seasonal part-time staff, and serves more than 5,000 students annually with a variety of dynamic, transformative programs to help children and adults appreciate nature and become stewards of it.

Conservation Fellow Mayra, an Escondido High student, presents her conservation action project at a community event

2018 was a turning point in how we approached outdoor education. Prior to that, we primarily worked with teachers who sought us out looking for programs. This resulted in inequitable access to programming. To address this issue,  we partnered with other organizations in the region to create a conservation consortium that provides outdoor education in a more strategic way. During the 2020-21 school year we jointly served all students at every grade level in all 23 schools in the Escondido Union School District! 

CalSOL or California Statewide Outdoor Learning logo of a silhouette of a young man looking through binoculars from the shoulders up. Inside the silhouette is a graphic of a creek running in front of a mountain.The regional success we’ve had in Escondido is something we believe can be scaled up. In 2020, we launched the California Statewide Outdoor Learning (CalSOL) movement. 

CalSOL aims to secure state funding so that outdoor education becomes a  fundamental part of California’s educational system, and all public school students throughout the state equitably receive outdoor learning opportunities. 

It’s a big goal, but we believe in dreaming big. We believe outdoor education should be a right for all children. We believe California can and should take up this initiative and lead by example, and we’re leading the charge to make it happen.

Conservancy Education Team advocating in Sacramento, California for outdoor education, from left: Jennifer Imm, Simon Breen

Meanwhile, back in the watershed, we’re seeking to grow the number of people we connect to nature by establishing two new sites: (1) a new field trip destination at our Sardina Preserve, where middle school students can engage with restoration projects; and (2) a conservation field station on our Mountain Meadow Preserve, where high school and college students can conduct hands-on ecological research. 

As we continue to expand our reach, we’re also being mindful of the need to sustain our efforts, which is why we’ve launched the Seed the Future fundraising campaign. And we’re working on a new Strategic Plan to help keep us on task and propel us forward as we continue cultivating nature stewards. 

Our education efforts are ambitious, but it takes ambition to build a brighter future for the next generation.