Thanks to grant, area students will be 'Trekking Tuolumne'

Students in nearly a dozen area elementary schools will get an education in the outdoors this year.

Tuolumne River Trust, an environmental advocacy group, will run a yearlong program for fourth-graders in Modesto and Hughson, which will include a hike along the Tuolumne River during which students can look at animal and plant life.

The "Trekking the Tuolumne" project is funded through a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Water Resources. The grant covers the field trips, classroom lessons for teachers, and science equipment to use in the field.

"We want to get (students) to recognize the importance of the river as a natural resource," said Meg Gonzalez, director of outreach education with Tuolumne River Trust. "There are a lot of schools that can't afford field trips. They can't afford to send students to outdoor ed."

This week, teachers will begin three hours of training on the science curriculum they will use in the classroom as part of "Trekking the Tuolumne." The students also will take trips to Modesto's Legion Park for a hike along the Tuolumne River and to the Great Valley Museum's Tuolumne River watershed exhibit. The year will end with a schoolwide service learning project.

"The project can go beyond affecting just the school community, such as tree planting or river cleanups," Gonzalez said. "This will help to prepare future stewards of the river."

Modesto's El Vista Elementary took the project a step further and decided to include its fifth- and sixth-graders, at the school's expense.

Principal Marilyn Rockey said she believes the program will give her students fresh ways to experience science and new topics to inspire their writing.

"The most exciting thing is the classroom now breaks out of the four walls," Rockey said. "(The river) is very close to where we live at El Vista, but I've had several students say, 'There's a river there?' Things become real when you truly experience them and aren't just reading about them in a book."

For more information on "Trekking the Tuolumne," go to www.tuolumne.org, click on Programs, then on Central Valley.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.