KERN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAM (KEEP)Program Website: http://www.campkeep.org/
The Kern Environmental Education Program (KEEP), opened in 1968, provides a five-day residential environmental education program for Kern County’s fifth and sixth grade students. Operated by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office, KEEP's two campuses serve over 7,000 students each year. This means ALL children. Besides fifth and sixth graders, KEEP staff host and serve the visually and orthopedically handicapped, deaf and hard-of-hearing as well as children and adults with mental disabilities.KEEP consists of two separate and beautiful coastal campuses: KEEP Ocean at Montaña de Oro State Park and KEEP Cambria Pines in Cambria. Our curriculum stresses the most up-to-date concepts and hands-on activities in the environmental education field, directly correlated with the California State Science Content Standards. A range of 80 to 112 students can be accommodated each week at each of the campuses. The outdoor school sites consist of student cabins, restroom/shower facilities, separate teacher cabin, dining hall and learning center. A professionally trained staff of naturalists, food service workers, and maintenance personnel manage the day-to-day operations. The curriculum is taught by staff naturalists who also lead hikes and conduct evening and campfire programs. Classroom teachers participate as learners and help with student management and health care. The non-profit KEEP Foundation provides scholarships and other financial assistance to support KEEP. Participating students gain an educational and social experience at KEEP that can’t be matched in a classroom setting.Locations and ActivitiesKEEP was created in 1969 to provide environmental experiences for Kern County’s school children. From modest beginnings, KEEP now serves over 7,000 students each year at two campuses located near the ocean. The campuses are KEEP Ocean and KEEP Cambria.KEEP Cambria
KEEP Cambria Pines is located at Camp Yeager in the small town of Cambria along California's beautiful central coast. The campus features 13 acres of Monterey Pine habitat, plus a lush meadow and seasonal creek. Hiking trails offer glimpses into beautiful native habitats. The site is owned by the Coalinga-Huron Recreation & Parks District.
Program: The state parklands along the Central Coast provide a rich diversity of natural habitats in which to explore and study first-hand the concepts of ecology and California State science standards. This variety of communities makes for an outstanding environmental education experience for the students. Students perform a wide variety of field studies and investigations in several of these sites throughout the week. Typical lessons focus on concepts such as energy, adaptation, interdependence, food chains, ecosystems, and human impact. Students participate in hands-on activities including creative writing, nature related art projects, and Scientific Monitoring. Typical hikes include:
San Simeon Forest - The coastal scrub community includes hardy plants that flourish on dry slopes. These stands of vegetation provide excellent habitat for wildlife such as Mule Deer, Brush Rabbits, and an astonishing variety of insects. The pine forest ecosystem features Monterey Pines, Coast Live Oaks and a wealth of small plants. Raptor and deer sightings are common.
Curriculum: The San Simeon forest trail is a 3.5 mile loop traveling through coastal scrub, riparian, and pine forest communities. Along the way, students have a variety of opportunities to experience the forest and see its inhabitants. Ticks and Poison Oak are perennial favorites and can be found year round. They are an excellent example of animals and plants adapting well to their environments and can always be counted on to be interesting. There are the occasional bobcat and deer sightings, and winter brings migrating Monarch Butterflies. In the rainy season, students have a chance to catch and learn about Pacific Tree Frogs.
Naturalists use a variety of activities to teach students in interactive ways. Kids may act out the life of a tree, learn to teach each other in a "professor walk", or spend time doing some creative writing or drawing. What am I? riddles require students to choose a plant or animal that they saw during their hikes and write a cryptic riddle about it. Adaptation Fables require students to think of a plant or animal and describe how their adaptations came to be in an imaginary story.During the second half of their day at San Simeon, students get a chance to learn about the Chumash, the Native American group that lived in this area. Students use materials they find on the beach to design and build a miniature Chumash village complete with huts, tools, food, and baskets. Following that, students have a lesson on sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks. In their closing activity, they learn to make paint from sedimentary rocks and create pictographs.
Moonstone Beach and Tide Pools - The beautiful, open coastline affords occasional views of dolphins, Sea Otters, and Harbor Seals. The rocky intertidal zones feature shore crabs, sea anemones, many other invertebrate species, and an abundance of birds.
Curriculum: Students hike a mile and a half along sandy beaches and coastal cliff tops. Along the way, they encounter common seashore life and have the opportunity to learn up close about those animals. Brown Pelicans, Sea Otters, Harbor Seals, and Ground Squirrels are daily sights. Groups also frequently see Great Egrets, the rare Snowy Plover, and Brush Rabbits along the trail. The beach hike provides an excellent venue for lessons on wave formation, tide cycles, and erosion. Students also learn about kelp and have a chance to beat the KEEP jump rope record with Bull Kelp! Students may dig into the sand to find Beach Fleas and then study their adaptations with the Beach Flea Olympics.
Naturalists use a variety of techniques to encourage students to get a sense of the place they are in. Creative writing is an important part of that experience. We are often surprised and impressed with the quality of writing these activities produce. The I am a ... writing activity asks students to choose anything from nature and to write about what the world is like from its perspective. The Rhyming Poem assignments are often quite interesting.
Beach art is another experimental lesson. Students may be asked to think of an animal they saw during the week and to build that creature using anything they can find on the beach. During the process, students encounter the variety of materials to be found on the beach and learn quite a bit about the details and lifestyle of the animal they choose.
During the second half of the day, students learn about and explore our local tide pools. This hike focuses on stewardship of a very fragile ecosystem and the variety of adaptations that tide pool creatures exhibit. Students always enjoy touching the sea anemones, searching for sea stars, and holding hermit crabs. On days with particularly low tides, they may be able to participate in the Tide pool Monitoring Program. Scientific Monitoring activities are important lessons in how data are collected in scientific research and studies and are a way for students to focus in closely on one study area.
Morro Bay Estuary and Mudflats – The estuary of Morro Bay provides a nationally recognized display of mudflats, marshes, and is an example of the mixing of fresh and salt waters. Morro Rock, an immense solitary, volcanic formation is located at the entrance to Morro Bay. It is home to two breeding Peregrine Falcon pairs and an occasional pair of Sea Otters. Spring also brings the local bird rookery into full swing with nesting Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Night Herons, and cormorants.
Curriculum: The Morro Bay National Estuary is a unique and rich ecosystem. Ocean water coming into the estuary around Morro Rock and nutrients flowing in from freshwater creeks make this a good environment for a wide variety of plants and animals. While on their hike, students engage in several activities that introduce them to the diversity of life in this ecosystem.
Before starting their trip to Morro Bay, students learn how to identify local raptors. On the bus trip, they take a raptor survey along Highway 1. The count from each day is collected and added to a Raptor Count chart. This activity gives students some insight into scientific data collection techniques.
Belly Biology is a very hands-on activity. Students visit a floating dock and have the opportunity to touch and learn about the animals living and growing along the sides. We stress the human impact on these delicate creatures and teach students proper ways of handling them. We also collect plankton samples for viewing under the microscope later that day.
A favorite activity is Mudflat Digging. Students get down and dirty digging for animals living under the mud in the back of the estuary. They regularly find Bent-Nosed Clams, Ghost Shrimp, shore crabs, and Arrow Goby fish. On rare occasions, they find Innkeeper Worms and Scale Worms. This activity is the reason we ask students to bring their old clothes!At Morro Rock, students study geology and volcanic formation. Peregrine Falcons and Sea Otters often make appearances and students use binoculars and spotting scopes to watch them go about their daily lives.
During the winter months, students hike through a local Monarch Butterfly hibernation area. Thousands of monarchs hang like dead leaves from trees and slowly flutter between branches. It is a fascinating sight and gives us an excellent opportunity to discuss migration and hibernation. The Heron & Egret Rookery is active in the spring when birds are rebuilding their nests and caring for their young.
Curriculum: The Elephant seal hike, available December through February, is a spectacular opportunity for students to observe our local seal colony. On a single stretch of beach, students see the daily behaviors of hundreds of seals. They include territorial posturing and fighting, birthing of pups, nursing, and mating. Students learn and use field study and scientific monitoring techniques for mapping, sketching, and describing the colony and its behavior.Through a half day of observing these amazing animals, students learn about the natural history of the Elephant seals, specific adaptations they have for survival, their yearly breeding cycle, and how humans have impacted their populations. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have the opportunity to see these amazing animals. The pioneers of our local colony first appeared on November 25, 1990. Less than two dozen elephant seals were counted in the small cove just south of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse. In January of 1992 the first birth occurred. In 1993, about 50 pups were born. By 1996 the number of pups born soared to almost 1000 and the colony stretched all the way to the beaches that run along the Coast Highway. By 2005, nearly 3,500 pups covered the beaches of our local colony.At KEEP Cambria Pines the students are guests and visitors to the state parklands along the central coast. Every effort is made to minimize our impact on the trails and habitats visited, and to maximize our enjoyment and learning.KEEP OceanKEEP Ocean is located on a secluded 10-acre site within Montaña de Oro State Park, some 10 miles south of Morro Bay in California. The campus is nestled behind a grove of eucalyptus trees about one-half mile from the Pacific Ocean. Hiking trails lead from the site to many diverse habitats in the surrounding state park.During their stay at KEEP Ocean students will have the opportunity to experience one of the more spectacular coastlines of the central California coast. Montana de Oro and Morro Bay State Parks combine to provide a wide variety of natural habitats for science exploration.
As students climb the coastal mountains through the chaparral ecosystem they will study geology and plant adaptations. Many reptiles, birds, and mammals are regularly seen in the chaparral. Climbing to the top of these mountains and seeing the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the coastline stretching below them gives the students a sense of accomplishment not felt in traditional educational settings.The shifting sands of the sand dune community provide a dynamic landscape overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Here students can study the unique flora and fauna that is adapted to this ‘semi-desert’ area. The walk also affords the students a chance to explore some of the beaches, tide pools and rocky shorelines of the state park.The riparian (or streamside) ecosystem provides a cool, moist environment to compare and contrast with the drier habitats of the uplands. Under the shade of the willow trees the babble of the creek serves as a backdrop for lessons about the riparian ecosystem and the history of the Native Americans (Chumash) who depended on this vital source of water.At Morro Bay, students will spend the entire day learning about the natural history, geology and economic importance of estuaries. Waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors share this habitat with sea lions, sea otters and fish. Students will conduct field studies of the estuary by examining plankton, observing underwater habitats and exploring the salt marsh and mudflats. The wide variety of vertebrates and invertebrates observed in these habitats help give meaning to the concepts of food webs and interdependence.At KEEP Ocean we are guests and visitors to State Parks. Every effort is made to minimize our impact on the habitats we visit while maximizing our enjoyment and learning. But above all, KEEP Ocean is for kids!For additional information, contact your child's school or the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at (661) 831-8331, ext. 6102.