A hybrid SLEWS Field Day

Woodland High School at the Maples
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | April 22, 2021

Summary of the Day
For weeks now, I have been working with Woodland High School teacher Jerry Delsol to plan a virtual SLEWS field day of sorts for his students. We previously coordinated for him to attend one of our volunteer habitat restoration SLEWS Field Days in December (read more here), which he broadcast live to his students back in the classroom. Students were able to interact with our adult volunteers, see the site, and even ask questions of their own! 

We planned to do something similar at our headquarters at the Maples in Woodland, focusing more on the restoration and wildlife monitoring plans being implemented onsite. Some of his students were even part of the class that participated in our first year of SLEWS at the Maples (blog posts here and here!), so they’d be able to see how much the native habitat they planted has grown! When I met with Mr. Delsol the week prior to the field trip, I was thrilled to hear that he’d be able to bring a small group of students to the field day to participate in-person, while still broadcasting live to students attending school from home.

Students arrived bright and early on Thursday morning, meeting us at the “bioswale” their class created last SLEWS season. This SLEWS project included transforming a stormwater retention basin into viable habitat. I introduced the project to the class, and showed the next phase of the project (an adjacent hedgerow), which volunteers planted this past winter. Then we moved to the side of the bioswale to a wildlife monitoring camera set up by Center for Land-Based Learning’s Ecologist Jeanne Wirka. Jeanne introduced herself and her work at the Maples, where she is currently gathering baseline data on the wildlife and pollinators present. She’s already begun getting snapshots of wildlife from the motion-activated camera facing the hedgerow – including a coyote whose scat one student spotted! 

After meeting Jeanne, students split into three groups to rotate between different activities.

I led students in a native plant identification workshop and shared about how scientists press plants to create herbariums, preserved collections of plants in an area. Students then collected clippings of plants in the hedgerow to create plant pressings of their very own. Some of the species identified included California poppies, lupines, common fiddleneck, and yarrow.

Jeanne taught students about cavity nesting birds (and why it is difficult for them to find nesting habitat) before showing each group how to install a bluebird nest box on the Maples campus. They looked at nest boxes installed a few weeks ago by Yolo County Audubon, and even found an egg in one of them!

Mr. Delsol led a soil sampling activity in the nearby ag fields, looking at soil types and sampling the compost as well.

Meanwhile, Mr. Delsol’s student teacher engaged with students attending the livestream by asking them questions and leading them through the activities so they were active participants. Though this was a very quick field day (we only had 1 hour!) it was amazing to finally engage with students in-person.

What happens to the soil during a fire?

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | December 7, 2020

Location(s) of Field Day:
Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
744 La Guardia St., Suite A
Salinas, Ca

Participating Schools:
Soquel High School
Gonzalez High School
Alisal High School
Greenfield High School

Field Day Hosts and Mentors:
Drew Mathers – Soil Conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Services
Megan Barker – Project Administrator/ Environmental Scientist with the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
Laura Murphy – Soil Scientist with the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County

Theme: Post-Fire Soils

Summary of the Day: 

2020 has been a challenging year on so many levels and this summer we had one of the worst wildfire seasons in California history. All of our students and teachers were affected by the wildfires. In Santa Cruz County, there was the CZU Lightning Complex Fire that burned 86,509 acres, and in Monterey County, there was the River Fire that burned 48,088 acres. With the trauma of the summer fires fresh in their minds, students had a chance to learn about soil and how it is affected by wildfires. Drew Mathers from the NRCS and Laura Murphy with the RCDMC sourced 6 different types of soils for student’s to experiment with. The field day was packed with information on the challenges and the benifits of wildfires. Students learned about the different severity levels of wildfires and how to observe the landscape to determine how severe a fire was in an area of land. There were polls and experiments and we all had a lot of fun learning about soil conservation and wildfires.

Video Recording coming soon!

What can the Soil Tell us About the Land?

FARMS Leadership | Monterey & Santa Cruz | November 7th, 2019

Location(s) of Field Day:
D’Arrigo Ranch – 18742 Gould Rd. Salinas, Ca
Hartnell College Alisal Campus – 1752 E Alisal St. Salinas, Ca

Participating Schools:
Gonzales High School
Soquel High School

Field Day Hosts and Mentors:
Resource Conservation District for Monterey County(RCDMC)
Paul Robins – Executive Director 
Megan Baker – Project Administrator 
Laura Murphy – Soil Scientist
Chelsea Rutt – Student Trainee (Soil Conservation)
Shaun Richards – Ag Water Management Specialist

National Resource Conservation District(NRCS)
Drew Mather – Conservation Planner 
Allison Tokunaga – Rangeland Conservationist

D’Arrigo Brothers
Ed Mora – PCA
Saul Lopez Jr. – D’Arrigo Superintendent / PCA 

Summary of the Day:

When it comes to soil conservation the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County (RCDMC) are the experts. Students had the opportunity to spend the day with these local experts and learn more about soil science, land judging and possible careers in Ag and Conservation.

Students arrived at the D’Arrigo Ranch promptly to a warm breakfast. After breakfast, we headed out to a freshly harvested field to meet our field day mentors. Paul Robins started with an overview and history of the NRCS and the RCD, and how they support local farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners wanting to make conservation improvements to their land. One of the local ag companies that work with the RCDMC is D’Arrigo Brothers and we were lucky enough to have Saul Lopez Jr. and Ed Mora from D’Arrigo on-site to greet students.

It was time to learn how to judge the land for the land judging competition. There was a lot to cover and Laura Murphy, Shaun Richards, and Drew Mather gave students a crash course on soil properties and proper ways of observing and analyzing soil and topography. With that, students were ready to try it on their own.

“It’s kinda cool, right? From where we started with color and texture we’re sort of predicting out. Just from texture you can tell so much about what you can do with your soil, from available water to instability for building or for growing plant life.” – Drew Mather, NRCS

In order to make the land judging contest more competitive, the RCD has agreed to provide the first place winner with a scholarship to California Range and Natural Resources Camp at Elkus Ranch in Half-Moon Bay. Students will spend 10 minutes in the pit and 10 minutes outside the pit at 2 different locations. Each student and team will get an opportunity to make observations and record their findings on a scorecard that would later be graded. Judges will combine the two scores to determine the winner. Students do their best and turn in their scorecards.

We head to Hartnell College for lunch and some team building activities while the scorecards are graded. Before the winners are announced students split up into groups of two to meet the experts and practice their networking skills. Professionals share information about their careers and what they do and why they like it while asking students to share more about their own interests and future plans for themselves.

Finally, it is announced that the top two scorers for the land judging competition go to Kayli Plazola and Sophia Lopez from Gonzales High School.

A big thank you to Megan Barker from the RCDMC for working with FARMS to plan this field day.