The Tri-Valley is home to many parks and hiking trails allowing visitors to experience the area’s natural habitat.
During the past three months especially, these trails have been a means for residents to take in fresh air, exercise and wildlife sightings as they take a break from sheltering in their homes.
Before COVID-19 closed schools and businesses, the Tri-Valley Conservancy (TVC) was working its way through Livermore’s fourth-grade classrooms to teach students about local habitats and foster a love of hiking.
TVC’s educational arm is called Discovery: Youth in Nature. The program encourages an awareness in children of local agricultural lands, habitats and nature.
“The program was designed in 2015 to encourage a connection for our youth with open spaces here, local agriculture, the importance of nature and healthy habitats, and to ensure that we are investing in the future land stewards of this area,” said Charlene Anderson, TVC associate director. “By providing this free educational experience to the fourth-graders, we are teaching responsible preservation for future generations.”
TVC’s youth educators spend three days spread over six weeks with each class they teach. The first day is spent in the classroom, working on activities centered on California’s watersheds and habitats. The second day is hiking day – TVC brings a bus and takes the students on a 1.5-mile hike at Holdener Park in Livermore. The third and final day is back in the classroom, where students discuss the web of life and learn how all species and their habitats are connected.
Jess Moseley became one of TVC’s youth educators in 2016. With a background in geography and special education, she felt ideally suited to helping kids understand the importance of taking care of the natural world.
“Taking the kids out on the hike is the highlight of the programming,” she said. “Some of them have never been on a hike before, and some of the them are nervous and then end up loving it, especially if we see different critters like rabbits or a fox, and it energizes them.”
Moseley added the Holdener Park hike is relatively flat and not strenuous, making it ideal for new hikers. She reported many of the students who participate will bring their families back to the park for a hike, spreading their newfound knowledge.
Trish McAfee teaches fourth grade at Junction Avenue K-8 School in Livermore. She said her classes have been participating in the TVC program for the past four years. She feels it is great exposure to conservancy and the area the students live in.
“I really love the program,” McAfee said. “I think the way they organized it is great. They talk a lot about conservancy and the environment . . . For many of my students, this is a first opportunity to get to go hiking in their community, and it’s really neat when they come back a week or two later and tell me they’ve taken their family for a hike as well.”
In 2015 and 2016 combined, the Youth in Nature program taught 300 students. Another 300 were included in 2017. In 2018, that number more than doubled to 760 students. For the 2019-2020 school year, TVC was on track to educate every fourth-grade classroom in Livermore, but that goal was cut short by COVID-19. Before schools closed, 1,000 students from Livermore to San Ramon had participated in the program, and Anderson is eager to beat that number in the new school year.
“This is a very unique, hands-on experience that is interactive with natural spaces,” Anderson said. “In today’s world, with the way we are shifting with social media, it is so critical for us as a global community to step away from these digital moments and really connect to what’s important. If you don’t understand where the bird lives, you don’t understand why you shouldn’t throw your trash there. If you haven’t seen it in the wild, you won’t get it.”
For more information on TVC, and the Discover: Youth in Nature Program, or to donate, visit https://bit.ly/TVC_Youth_Education or call 925-449-8706.