ESSE program branches out

Newly redesigned ESSE program culminates multidisciplinary studies with extended field trip
Posted on 06/20/2018
Plumas Charter School sixth-graders jump for joy at their campsite overlooking the ocean. From left: Honisty Tuell, Lilah Washburn, Kailey Blackburn-Brown, Ellie Koskinen, Briana Reinolds, Elli Neff, Nala Lowry, Warren Carpenter, Jared Boyd, Turner McIntyre, Carson Goss, Aiden Vaughn, Leo Kusener, Nathan Carnes, Jamie Sanderson, Frankie Cooper, and Joey Davis. Photo by Sara Koskinen

During the last week in May, Plumas Charter School sixth-graders embarked on an extended field trip as the culmination of their Environmental Science and Student Exploration studies. This year marks the unveiling of the newly redesigned program, formerly known as Mill Creek to the Golden Gate.

The program was expanded “in an effort to find more opportunities that are engaging for students,” said Patrick Joseph, PCS Quincy site director. Using a “multi-domained approach,” he and Quincy sixth-grade teacher Melanie Strahm built on the hydrology component of the Mill Creek to the Golden Gate program, in which students followed waterways from local streams to the San Francisco Bay.

They added social science and history to the curriculum, focusing on the sustainability and effects of local industries. The four “functional areas” ESSE addresses are water, land management, timber and forestry, and mining.

“We looked at the human impact, how things that we do here in Plumas County like agriculture and mining affect the environment downstream and in other areas,” said Katelyn Johns, instructional aide with the sixth-grade class.

At the state level, Joseph said, there’s an increased emphasis on career technical education. He envisions PCS’s ESSE program meeting CTE goals by providing an early pathway to outdoor education and natural resource management studies.

“The presumption that we have to leave Plumas County to find meaningful employment is not necessarily true,” said Joseph. The school hopes to inspire students by introducing them to people in various industries and jobs at a young age. “If they’re exposed to a lot of different career paths, maybe that piques their interest,” said Joseph.

In the future, said Joseph, PCS plans to expand the ESSE program to middle and high school, highlighting Plumas County organizations and resources.

“It’s great that there’s a trip associated with this, but it’s really just the icing on the cake,” said Joseph, emphasizing the year-long studies in which the students learned to understand their place in geographic, geologic, environmental, and civic terms, with special focus on long-term community sustainability.

The ESSE trip
The ESSE field trip is open to students from the three Plumas Charter School elementary sites: Quincy, Greenville, and Chester. This year’s group included students from the Quincy and Greenville sites.

Highlights of the field trip included seeing the ocean—a first for at least one student, said Strahm—camping for two nights near the beach, and an excursion aboard a research vessel with the Marine Science Institute of Redwood City. On the boat students participated in capturing, classifying, and studying various forms of marine life in the estuary and San Francisco Bay.

The trip also taught students social skills that will “help them as they’re leaving elementary school and starting to take on adult responsibilities,” said Johns.

Duties and activities such as managing their equipment and belongings and cooking helped them bond as a class. Johns said she witnessed kids growing closer and more comfortable with each other. “I made a new ‘brother’ on the trip!” said sixth-grader Nala Lowry.

The trip taught students the “ability to be learners outside of the classroom and in other environments too,” said Johns. “They have more of a realization of the impact they have as individuals and the changes they can make.”



Student experiences
Leo Kusener said he was surprised by how long common household waste items take to decompose. He also hadn’t expected to catch sharks to study!

Lilah Washburn said she learned “how to help the watershed by saving plastic and reusing it.” She was amazed—and disturbed—to see through a microscope how tiny bits of plastic had accumulated inside plankton.

Nala Lowry said she learned that “not all plankton are small.” Some are bigger than boats! “I always knew the trip would be fun, but it was super fun!” she said.



In the photo: Plumas Charter School sixth-graders jump for joy at their campsite overlooking the ocean. From left: Honisty Tuell, Lilah Washburn, Kailey Blackburn-Brown, Ellie Koskinen, Briana Reinolds, Elli Neff, Nala Lowry, Warren Carpenter, Jared Boyd, Turner McIntyre, Carson Goss, Aiden Vaughn, Leo Kusener, Nathan Carnes, Jamie Sanderson, Frankie Cooper, and Joey Davis. Photo by Sara Koskinen
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To see more photos, choose "ESSE trip photo gallery" under "What's New."