LandPaths’ Inspired Forward Gets High School Students Outside, Studying Biology, and Connecting with Nature at Shell Beach

Category: Inspired Forward, Rooting Youth in Nature, Youth Programs

By Leilani Clark

January 22, 2020


Harbor seals resting on rocks and playing in the waves. Sea birds soaring across an azure sky broken by clouds. Wait, wait! Look! Is that a whale spouting out there in the distance?

“This was my first time seeing a seal!” declared one high school student, holding a pair of binoculars to her eyes to catch a better glimpse.

These were just a few of the inspiring sights experienced by Elsie Allen High School students during a coastal hike at Shell Beach in mid-January with LandPaths’ Inspired Forward.

Surrounded by stunning seascape views, another 10th grade biology student even declared: “We’re in heaven, dude!”

Founded by LandPaths in 2012, in response to a rash of school shootings, Inspired Forward offers the chance for local teens and young adults to develop leadership and team-building skills, while cultivating self-confidence and a connection with the land and the natural world.

While LandPaths has partnered with Elsie Allen’s Community Engagement class, which focuses on restorative justice concepts, for the last couple of years, this was the first time that 10th grade biology students participated in an Inspired Forward field trip.

The Community Engagement class worked in a small group with LandPaths’ staff on more team-building and restorative aspects, and the biology students focused on more hands-on science exploration aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

The day began with an “Energy Skit” in which they explored how matter and energy flows through an ecosystem. Some of the small biology groups created scientific sketches of organisms; other groups did sketches of ecosystems. Climate change connections were another key focus of the day’s curriculum. Students also studied a few of the impacts of climate change on the ocean, including how an increase in water temperatures has led to a massive die-off of sea stars, and in turn, an overpopulation of purple sea urchins.

“The benefits of real world learning for Elsie Allen students are tremendous,” says Kamala Brown, who teaches the biology and community engagement classes at Elsie Allen. “Many high school students struggle to stay engaged in classroom content. When students are in the midst of an ecosystem unit in the classroom and they can then see those concepts happening in the natural world, it helps the concepts come alive and helps them to realize ecology is relevant to their lives. As a teacher, when we are learning NGSS standards in the classroom and I am able to refer back to something they saw on a Landpaths’ field trip, it allows for deep learning. Additionally, the bonding that happens in nature allows for greater trust among students in the classroom. This allows them to take more academic risks which is vital to learning and growth.”

Each group also had a chance for solo sit spot time: reflection and journaling about feelings and observations. And they had time for a quick garbology lesson about where our trash comes from, where it goes, and how it is sorted.

At the end of the day, students and staff closed with a rose, thorn, bud reflection on the day.

“My rose was sitting quietly looking at the ocean, journaling,” said one female student. “Releasing emotions is so good for you.”

Kamala Brown, Elsie Allen High School Biology and Restorative Justice teacher

" When we are learning Next Generation Science Standards in the classroom and I am able to refer back to something they saw on a Landpaths' field trip, it allows for deep learning. Additionally, the bonding that happens in nature allows for greater trust among students in the classroom. This allows them to take more academic risks which is vital to learning and growth. "

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