Students learn from the earth

By Murray Schneider

No ‘reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic for 21 Miraloma Elementary school children today as they played hooky from their textbooks and devoted their morning to weeding around natives plants they had planted west of Glen Canyon’s Islais Creek last January.

Under the supervision of Zoe Burton, an AmeriCorp environmental specialist, and Kay Kirman, their fourth grade teacher, the excited fourth and fifth graders are part of a youth stewardship program that partners with San Francisco Rec and Parks Natural Areas Program. The program doubles as both classroom education and outdoors restoration.

“The kids planted yarrow, bee plants, coffee berry and columbine,” said Burton, who has been with the AmeriCorps program since December 2010. “Today they’re keeping invasives such as mustard and hemlock from choking the native plants.”

Instructor Kirman, who has been teaching for 11 years, has often returned with her classes to Glen Park’s prize natural habitat.

“This is an amazing program,” the veteran teacher said. “It takes the classroom outdoors and gives kids who may not have a backyard an opportunity to get close to nature.”

One of those kids, a 5th grader named Zoe, knelt before a thicket of annual grasses. “This is my fifth field trip to the canyon,” she said. “I like helping here and making sure it stays natural.”

There are no standardized pacing guides for today’s wilderness lessons and the only benchmark test that keeps Burton and Kirman accountable is how quickly the kids hit their lunchtime marks at the Rec Center picnic benches.

The sun, however, shone the entire time the children worked and if their hands were stained it had less to do with ink and lead and everything to do with earth and soil.

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