The Idyllwild School Outdoor Education Booster Club is short this year on having the funds to bring IS Middle School students outdoors to learn science. “We’re still short $4,000 for this year’s budget,” said volunteer Larrynn Carver.
What began with a need, observed by long-time physical education teacher Holly Guntermann — that even though IS Middle School students had been raised in the mountain communities of Idyllwild and Pine Cove, they did not hike or use the trails – has become a regular part of IS Middle School activities. “Many had never been camping,” said Guntermann.
So beginning in the early 1990s, Guntermann, along with Jeanine Stocks of Boojum Institute for Experiential Education, began introducing the students to outdoor natural and physical science with trips to Joshua Tree. “It was never funded by the school district,” she remembered. “From the beginning, it was all done by donations and fundraisers. With the first trips, parents drove the kids.”
Now, the educational opportunity is a regular feature of IS Middle School life, with field trips to Catalina, Joshua Tree, Astrocamp and other destinations with one three-day science trip for each sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade class each year. So far, the now-incorporated Booster Club, a 501(c)(3) IRS tax-exempt organization, has completed 51 trips for more than 1,500 students. Idyllwild School is the only school in the Hemet Unified School District with this program. It continues to be funded by grants, donations and fundraisers and coordinated by volunteers.
Carver, an anthropologist by training and career archaeologist, began her involvement as a parent volunteer when her older daughter was in IS Middle School. “I was an ‘ology,’” said Carver smiling, “so my involvement as a coordinator and trip-teaching volunteer came naturally. Kids who are in touch with the natural world have a greater understanding of science and how things work, and they’re more secure in the world. Being in nature is very grounding and good for mental and physical health.”
Carver notes that California Standards Test scores show marked improvement in IS student science scores after they have participated in the club’s outdoor education program. Trips begin in sixth grade. 2013 fifth-graders scored a mean of 392.7 on the test, with 36 percent ranking “advanced” and 46 percent “proficient.” By comparison, eighth-graders scored a mean of 465.3 with 88 percent ranking as “advanced” and 8 percent “proficient.” The HUSD average for eighth grade on science scores is 362.5 with 29 percent “advanced” and 26 percent “proficient.” Fully 45 percent of district students do not meet proficiency in science compared with 96 percent in Idyllwild who meet or exceed the proficiency standard.
The Booster Club organizes field camps for each Middle School grade with each focused on different scientific disciplines: sixth-graders study earth science while camping at Joshua Tree National Park with activities in geology and astronomy; seventh-graders attend Catalina Island Marine Institute with emphasis on biology and marine science and activities, including studies of kelp, sharks, plankton and ray, island hikes to study ecology of the area and snorkeling; and eighth-graders study astronomy and physics at Idyllwild’s Astrocamp.
As before, Carver notes that the program exists because of donations and community support, including recent grants from the Idyllwild Community Fund and the nascent Idyllwild Youth Grantmakers, a subset of the ICF in which Middle School students learn philanthropy, and review and approve grants to local nonprofits that have teens and their needs in their mission. Carver saluted Mary and Brendan Collier of Idyllwild’s Hub Cyclery for donating proceeds from two mountain bike events they organize.
To date, the Colliers have donated more than $4,000 to the Booster Club program. “These donations and grants make a big difference in a program that needs $12,000 annually to fund the trips and activities,” said Carver. She also noted that no IS student is turned away because of its family’s inability to pay. “Fifty-five percent of students here qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Given our remote location in the San Jacinto Mountains, many students do not have the opportunity to experience museums, zoos and other educational facilities with their families,” she said. “Many families up here cannot afford to even visit the beach or desert. These field classes are often their only opportunity.”
Carver is joined in her volunteer activities for the club by Michelle Johnson, Keith Shirley, Bob Leih, Kim Mueller, Lenore Sazer and Guntermann. Anyone who wishes to contribute may contact Johnson at Idyllwild School.