is one of the very popular public programs offered by the
volunteers of Henry W. Coe State Park. It offers students from
grades 1 through 6 the opportunity to get hands-on experiences with
nature in the out-of-doors, while exposing them to the concept that
all living things are connected to each other.
‘Coe Connections” is one of the very popular public programs offered by the volunteers of Henry W. Coe State Park. It offers students from grades 1 through 6 the opportunity to get hands-on experiences with nature in the out-of-doors, while exposing them to the concept that all living things are connected to each other.
The Coe Connections program typically serves about 1,000 area students each year.
When a teacher brings up a class from a local school, a park volunteer presents them with a slideshow which introduces them to the park and its wildlife, season-by-season. They are then split up into groups of 10 or so and taken on hikes into the park by other volunteers, who use this outdoor experience to reinforce ideas presented in the slide show.
This hike may last as long as 2-1/2 hours and cover over two miles.
The volunteers who lead these hikes have fun sharing their knowledge of the park and nature with these students and watching
the students’ horizons expand as they get out of the classroom and into the “real” world.
The stories which follow illustrate some of the experiences of volunteer Marlene Testaguzza and myself.
He was a second grader, small and husky with enormous eyes encircled by more enormous black-rimmed glasses. He was dressed in a shirt, long pants and large tennis shoes. Slung over his back was a day pack filled with many plant and animal identification books.
He was more than ready to hike out to the acorn woodpecker tree, a long-dead erect ponderosa pine that was filled with carefully pecked holes each holding a stored acorn.
There, we would eat lunch, explore, and learn about items the hike leader had in her day pack. Bernard’s classmates, from time to time, asked Bernard, who had his books readily available, questions about the birds, plants, galls, spiders, oak and pine trees etc. Bernard, in a serious manner, looked up the pertinent information.
After they’d hiked back to the Visitor Center, and as the leaders stood in front of the door of the Interpretive room, a little girl with long dark hair put her hand gently on a leader’s arm, looked up into her face, and said in a low but easily heard voice, “Bernard knows ev-ery-thing!”
Hugging an oak
Twenty-eight little 1st graders from San Jose’s inner city had come to visit. Most had never been in a park like Coe, had never hiked a trail in a park like Coe. This was their first time being with giant old trees, seeing holes in the dirt banks that belonged to tarantulas, walking through meadows of long grass.
There is a special very large old valley oak near the trail that lends itself to being hugged. Some are hesitant to do this, so their Coe Ieader suggested that they encircle the tree with outstretched arms and count how many of them it took to go around. And while they’re there they may want to use the magnifiers they’d been given to see into the deep furrows of the tree’s bark where mosses and lichens live and tiny animals too.
After they returned to the Interpretive room at the Visitor Center, their leader asked the 28 little students if anyone had ever before touched a tree. No verbal response – not one was hand raised.
A fifth grade group arrived at the Henry W. Coe Visitor Center after driving the 10-mile windy mountain road from Highway 101 in the pouring-down rain and heavy winds.
Their teacher was a tall, imposing figure who had command of his class.
One of the parents told me that although he demanded much of them, he was fair and cared that his students grew and learned. It was obvious that they liked him.
Today they wore garbage bags over their clothes, which were appropriately cut open at neck and arms. If the plants and animals were out there in the storm … they would be too. After the indoor part of the program was completed, they prepared to hike, in the horizontal rain, two miles or more!
They returned about two hours later, their very wet garbage bags having kept them reasonably dry. While they were shedding their bags, there was boisterous conversation, and many smiles.
A few weeks later, the leader met a parent who mentioned that her daughter had gone on a field trip to Henry W. Coe State Park, in the pouring rain. Her daughter had always complained when she was made to hike. But when her mother asked if she’d like to go back to the park and hike, she said emphatically, “Yes!”
A group of sixth graders were taken on a hike up to explore Pine Ridge. After hiking around to various places on the ridge the group stopped for a lunch break. Many of the students had never even been to a state park before, much less having hiked in one. While sitting on logs with breath-taking views around them, they were obviously appreciating the experience they were having.
After having dropped down off the ridge they were on the way back to Coe headquarters. One of the students walked along and chatted with the leader for awhile. In the course of the conversation the student mentioned that the family had plans to visit Disneyland and other attractions in the south as soon a school was out.
She then said that as soon as she got home she was going to try to get the family to change their plans. She now wanted to split the vacation into two parts – one half at Disneyland and the other half at Henry Coe State Park!
Bill Frazer is a Henry W. Coe State Park Volunteer. More information about the ‘Coe Connections’ program can be obtained by calling 779-2356.