The coronavirus pandemic forces each of us to reimagine our lives. One teacher takes a deep dive into Community Engaged Learning and finds no end to the possibilities.
I have been teaching at St. Paul’s in various capacities for eleven years. One of the greatest gifts I received as an incoming Science teacher was the program set up by Susan Porter (1989-2016). She is the ultimate rock-star teacher. Ms. Porter developed cross-curricular lessons and projects for decades at St. Paul’s. Not only did she implement community engaged and project based learning, but also she made them a central theme for the Sixth Grade curriculum.
Continual Confluence of Curriculum
Our science curriculum utilizes St. Paul’s greatest asset: Lake Merritt and Lakeside Park. Students are educated on the history and ecology of the Lake with an emphasis on the “why” and “how” to be a steward of the Lake. Whether it’s learning about how to inspect the health of the water quality or if it’s simply cleaning trash out of the Lake, there are a lot of actual physical interactions with the environment.
Immersing ourselves in our neighborhood changes the way students interact with the community (Lake Merritt, Oakland, and the people of Oakland) and allows them to see themselves as part of something bigger. The connection between education and our community really hooked my interest in what our program can offer. Over the past four years, I have nurtured the existing relationship with Katie Noonan of the Lake Merritt Institute
(LMI) and Rotary Nature Center Friends
to expand the school's stewardship of the lake and its environs.
The Classroom is Our Community
Beginning the year in Distance Learning shifted the way we interacted with our usual Lake Merritt curriculum, inspiring a look at what we do through a new lens
. Lake Merritt isn’t just a place for animals, plants and microbes; it’s a place for all Oaklanders to relax, exercise and even a place to protest the injustices in our world.
In the past year, I’ve had opportunities to connect with other educators, community organizers, Oakland city employees and many other general stewards of the Lake. Due to COVID-19, Zoom meetings have become commonplace. Therefore, we have become more accustomed to meeting for a quick chat on Zoom, rather than scheduling a coffee meetup or some other time-intensive get together. In that way, the network has grown exponentially.
Lakeside Chats--community education Zoom presentations hosted by the Rotary Nature Center Friends--connect the greater Lake Merritt community for informational gatherings that lead to safe, social-distanced volunteer opportunities. In April 2021, a few of my students will join me in co-hosting a Lakeside Chat to introduce Lake Merritt advocates to a new, exciting Eco-Brick
Bench project with LMI and MudLab
Diving into Community Engaged Learning
I’ve had some extra time this year without my extracurricular activity (playing live music) to allow for a deeper personal relationship with Lake Merritt. With Katie Noonan, I’ve been active in the Tidal Marsh Restoration Project
near the boathouse. We have been building pens to protect native species of tidal plants, which will help restore the Lake’s water quality health. The students, fellow staff, volunteers and I have been planting Salicornia (pickleweed) and Grindelia (gumweed) in the area.
Although my curriculum engages this kind of work, I’m also a city resident who truly experiences the Lake as the “jewel of Oakland”. I want to be a steward. As simple as it might sound, my CEL work leans more heavily on the Community Engaged part of the learning. My goal is to continue meeting fellow Lake Merritt advocates and partner with them to strengthen the community’s effort to take care of this wonderful ecosystem. Engaging in our community is more than half the battle. Get out there, meet people, learn their story and get to work in understanding how you can be a steward for your community.