Program at Port of Oakland teaches Oakland students about the environment
on November 22, 2013
Amid the flow of semi trucks entering and exiting the Port of Oakland, an unlikely vehicle navigates through the traffic. A yellow school bus with 50 seventh graders is en route to the public park located smack dab in the middle of the industrial landscape of massive cranes and cargo containers.
Stepping Out Stepping In, an environmental education company located at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, has provided nature studies and become a field trip destination over the past three years for Oakland public school students from kindergarten through seventh grade. The program, which gets funds from the Port of Oakland, integrates information on the industrial history of the bay with lessons on stewardship of its ecology.
Tara Reinertson, owner and director, teaches lessons on the San Francisco Bay Estuary through interactive learning and hands-on activities. To help students learn about the wetlands and wildlife, Reinertson and her team of interns lead exercises like sediment sampling or bird watching.
Seeing how the kids react to nature is the draw for Kirk Wust, an intern for Stepping Out Stepping In.
“The kindergarteners get so excited when they find a crab in the sand,” he says. On a recent day, students from Melrose Leadership Academy came to learn about labor and trade in Oakland. First the students looked at photos of the port from decades ago and learned about the history of the Pullman porters, the first all-black union. Later they ran a relay race to illustrate international trade.
Many of the students were surprised to learn that the process of making a pair of jeans from growing the cotton to stitching the fabric takes place in several countries.
The goal of the program, Reinertson says, is to increase Oakland students’ access to the San Francisco Bay Estuary and to educate them about its ecological systems. She said she hopes the 2,000 students who participate in her program each year leave with a sense of stewardship of the nature that surrounds their city.
Yogi Francis, another intern, said she believes educating the younger generation about the environment will create positive change. But she was surprised to find that teaching the students has made a dramatic impact on her own life.
“I feel I have much more confidence,” she said. “Like I’ve grown from a three-foot-tall tree to a ten-foot-tall tree.”
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