Fifth graders from John Muir Elementary School spent Thursday at the Lodi Lake Nature Trail removing fallen branches from an empty stream bed, picking up litter and restoring a meadow.
As part of an overall unit on environmentalism, students learned about different species in the nature area and decided what most needed fixing at the lake. They then created a plan for cleaning up the area, and with the help of the Parks and Recreation Department they are following through.
"I feel proud of myself for doing this," Austin Leong said as he removed debris from a stream bed. "If we do one thing to help it might help other things."
Leong explained how removing the branches and debris would help water flow downstream more easily in the spring and summer.
The environmental benefit for humans is less mosquitoes during summer, said park superintendent Steve Dutra.
The students began the project as part of a Disney-sponsored environmental competition, in which students pledge to change three things they do every day that could harm the environment, said teacher Linda Raquel. Once students made the Jiminy Cricket Environmentality pledge they decided to also take part in the competition, which requires students to do a project in their community and create a portfolio tracking their progress.
Raquel said students reviewed the fifth-grade curriculum and created projects that would fulfill the requirements for their age group. They learned about the water cycle, different species of animals and plants, the digestive tract of deer and how to create a successful project, she said.
And they learned that helping the environment "is really cool," according to one student, Marcus Caras.
In the meadow area where Caras was working, students learned the importance of preserving grasslands, which deer rely on for food.
Some of the problems they found there were sprouting trees, which if given the chance to grow to adult size would take over the meadow area. They also found bicycle jumps created with piles of dirt, which destroys the grass.
"It's excellent they're taking part in the community as well as learning things they shouldn't do," said Denise Shaw, one of the parent volunteers.
Students will return to the nature trail next week to complete any unfinished work. They also plan to fix or replace any broken signs on the trail, but they are still looking for a local business to donate the signs, Raquel said.
She said they have been trying to get as much community involvement as possible, working with the Parks Department and enlisting the help of the school district's science curriculum specialist. They also relied on parents for transportation to and from the lake because they have no budget available for the project.
The payoff for students, however, is not only philanthropic. Student Jadon Henry said he hopes the class will win the grand prize from Jiminy Cricket, which is an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland for the entire class.
Parents there felt the project was important because it gives students a hands-on experience with helping the environment.
"It's good for them," said Lisa Hawes. "They're having a blast and they feel like they're doing something to help."
What is Jiminy Cricket's Environmentality challenge?As part of a partnership with the California Department of Education, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a number of other agencies, the Walt Disney Corporation is encouraging students to "think green" by challenging them to apply environmental learning within their communities.
Children take a pledge to change three things in their daily lives, opting for more environmentally friendly lifestyle, such as turning off the water while brushing their teeth.
Once they take the pledge they can choose to do a class project and submit it for judging. The grand prize is an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland for the entire class. Other prizes for runners-up include a Disney lunch box, class plaque, hats and up to $500.
First published: Friday, February 9, 2007