Outdoor Classroom
Cliff Feldheim, Wildlife Biologist and DECS parent

A little about me, I have two children at DECS, a kindergartener and a fourth grader. I also have a 2 year old and 4 year old that we plan on sending to DECS. I have a B.S. and M.S. in Wildlife Management from Humboldt State University and have been working full-time as a Wildlife Biologist since 1997. I took my first seasonal job, working with Bald Eagles, in 1992. By the late 90’s I began to ponder the fact that although I could spend my career trying to conserve our natural resources, it seemed that more and more the next generation of children would rather play video games than be outside exploring nature. As a result, in 1998, while working for the California Waterfowl Association, I began volunteering with the Yolo Basin Foundation educating kids about birds and wetlands. Since 2003, I have volunteered regularly at Bridgeway Island and Stonegate Elementary schools working with the third grade as part of their City Wildlife Unit. In 2013, I received Washington Unified School District’s Volunteer of Year Award. Since 2008, I have worked for the California Department of Water Resources and currently manage DWR’s Suisun Marsh Program ( www.water.ca.gov/suisun/ ).

Over the last four years, I have been working with DECS staff and the DECS Board to develop an Outdoor Classroom. The goal of the Outdoor Classroom is to provide staff the opportunity to get their students outside and compliment their teaching with hands on experiences with nature and the environment. This requires working with staff to develop a curriculum that includes hands on experiences in the classroom, across the street along Elk Slough, and on field trips to places like Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the Yolo Wildlife Area both of which have active educational programs ( see www.fws.gov/refuge/Stone_Lakes/visit/just_for_kids.html http://yolobasin.org/education/ ). I have led field trips to these areas, worked with the kids in the classroom, and taken them across the street to Elk Slough. As a result of these experiences, staff and the DECS Board support taking the next step of providing our students the hands on experience of environmental stewardship and an Outdoor Classroom curriculum.

Through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Program ( http://www.fws.gov/cno/conservation/schoolyard.cfm ) DECS has the opportunity to receive up to $8,000 towards the development of an Outdoor Classroom. The goal of this program is “to provide technical and organizational assistance to schools, so they can create outdoor classrooms that are effective as educational tools in addition to being a sustainable habitat for many years to come.” In 2103, I worked with Bridgeway Island Elementary School in West Sacramento to get a Schoolyard Habitat Program project established on their campus ( http://bridgeway.wusd.k12.ca.us/habitat ).

To make this program work, we need to create a team of volunteers to help with project organization and coordination, specific program and project tasks, curriculum development and implementation, and with the students in the classroom and in the field. Currently we are planning on the Fall of 2015 to plant an area near Elk Slough with vegetation that attracts wildlife and engages kids. We will need volunteers to help students plant and maintain the area.

There are many opportunities to work with the kids in class and take them to Elk Slough. As an example, for two years I have worked with the First Grade on their plant unit. One of the goals of this unit is to understand that different plants inhabit different kinds of environments and have external features that help them thrive in different kinds of places. To experience this first hand, I bring many different types of plant leaves and seeds into the classroom. After exploring the different plant leaf textures and sizes (some are less than an inch in size and some are over two feet in size), we walk across the street to Elk Slough to examine the diversity of plants first hand.

If you are interested in helping or seeing how you can contribute to the development of DECS’ Outdoor classroom, please don’t hesitate to contact me. We are fortunate at DECS to have Elk Slough across the street, our own school bus to take kids on field trips, and dedicated staff and families that make our school truly unique. Thank you DECS parents and staff!

Cliff Feldheim
916-376-9693 work
916- 698-5565 text
Cliff.Feldheim@water.ca.gov