SEC gets $40K grant for EnviroLeaders

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The Sonoma Ecology Center has received a $40,000 grant from The Giles W. and Elise G. Mead Foundation, in support of the EnviroLeaders Internship Program run at Sonoma Garden Park.

This unique program offers hands-on training; work experience and leadership focus for teens interested in environmental stewardship and study and who want to contribute in a positive way to the local community.

This award, payable over two years, will help keep the program operating and offering this opportunity to as many as 20 teens a year in the program’s rotating, paid internship program. EnviroLeaders work on a variety of community based, ecological projects throughout their internship.

In this program, interns gain valuable experience helping maintain the six-acre Sonoma Garden Park and learning how to grow their own food in the educational gardens. Community collaboration is fostered as they donate a portion of the organic produce to local nonprofits, including the Lovin’ Oven program at the Valley of the Moon Teen Center.

EnviroLeaders participate in our summer science camp series for elementary students, leading lessons and participating in performing arts for the children in the “Enchanted” fig forest.

They take leadership roles in the Ecology Center’s annual Coastal Creek Cleanup events on sites across Sonoma Valley, helping manage groups of volunteers and removing more than 564 pounds of trash, and 234 pounds of recycling from Valley waterways.

The interns also work on projects in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, helping to maintain trails, removing invasive species and co-facilitating community events.

They are offered the opportunity to camp out under the stars, which for some is their first camping experience.

EnviroLeaders intern projects can be seen around town, including at the Nathanson Creek Preserve, located behind Sonoma Valley High and Adele Harrison Middle Schools, where they tend to the native plants established by the Ecology Center’s restoration crew. Interns can also be spotted nurturing the nearly 100 oak trees plantings that they installed at Maxwell Park in the Springs.

Sonoma Ecology Center has long been committed to education. In addition to the EnviroLeaders program, its educators are in every school in the Valley providing hands-on science education to all second-, fourth- and fifth-graders. The curriculum is aligned with the new common core standards and provides children with lessons on oak woodland ecology, the Valley watershed, and green gardening. 

In addition to in-class lessons, each class participates in field trips to Sonoma Garden Park, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (both operated by Sonoma Ecology Center) or the Montini Preserve, where they get hands-on, real-life experience with the natural systems they are studying.

For some students, it’s the first time they’ve pulled a carrot from a garden plot, eaten a freshly picked strawberry or discovered that potatoes grow in the ground. For many students, it ignites a passion for the natural world, conservation and ecological stewardship that will last them a lifetime. The teachers involved have loved the program and signed up for it (offered for free to the schools) year after year.

Seventeen fourth-grade classes from eight different Sonoma schools (approximately 400 students) will visit the Sonoma Garden Park in the 2014-15 school year, for a four-hour educational fieldtrip.

This fall alone, the center had more than 300 students from various Sonoma Valley schools visit the garden. Said Educator Lisa Quigley, “They got to harvest walnuts, potatoes, pumpkins, strawberries and tomatoes. They learned to make compost. They visited and fed the chickens. They even climbed trees in the fig forest.” 

Sonoma Ecology Center Educator Tony Passantino explained, “Place-based learning, or learning about the environment they live in captures students imagination and establish the roots of stewardship and civic engagement.”

For grade-schoolers and teens alike, the opportunity to engage with their natural surroundings as they learn valuable lessons is something that greatly serves these future stewards of the environment. 

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