RMS 6th graders excited for upcoming field trip

Ross sixth-graders excited for upcoming Foothill Horizons field trip and science lessons
Posted on 02/08/2021
RMS Woodchip

For many sixth-graders, some of the most anticipated lessons of the year are the ones about natural history in their science classes. The reason? They lead up to a field trip to the Foothill Horizons outdoor education camp.


In the pre-COVID world, that field trip for thousands of middle school students took the form of a four-night adventure each spring at the 143-acre facility in Tuolumne County. The pandemic obviously changed that. Many of last year’s sixth-graders – including those from Hughson Unified – did not get to go because their trips were scheduled after campuses shut down in mid-March.


That will change later this month when more than 100 Hughson students will become the first group from Stanislaus County to return to the outdoor center since last spring. There will be no overnight stay in the cabins because of COVID. Instead, it will be a quick day trip, with four or five hours of boots-on-the-ground lessons sandwiched around an hourlong bus ride each way.


Still, Ross Middle School Principal Mary La Rosa said her students are eager to explore the same trails, hills and creeks at the Foothill Horizons facility that many of their older siblings – and, in some cases, even their parents – have experienced years before. La Rosa herself said she still has the wooden necklace with her name on it each student receives from her own trip years ago.


“I’m excited for them to see what this place looks like,” La Rosa said. “It’s so cool. They’ll get to spend a day in the hills with a naturalist.”


Permission slips are in the mail for parents to sign and return by Feb. 16. Hughson students whose last names begin with A through L will be go Monday, Feb. 22; those whose last names begin with M through Z will attend Wednesday, Feb. 24. La Rosa and three teachers will accompany each group.


Unlike in years past when students were charged $250 each for a five-day stay, there is no cost this year. The district will use government COVID relief funds to pick up the entire $8,000 bill.


“We’re just trying to bring some normalcy back to our kids,” La Rosa said.


The package includes more than just the field trip. Before Christmas, students in teacher Adrianna Rodrigues’s five sixth-grade science classes were treated to a Zoom lesson with a Foothill Horizons naturalist about a king snake named El Rey. They saw online photos of the snake’s internal organs and bone structure, learned how to tell if it’s venomous (it’s not) and were able to ask lots and lots of questions.


“The students were highly interested,” La Rosa said.


Additional natural history lessons will follow the field trips. A naturalist will be on the Ross campus on Feb. 23 and again Feb. 25 to continue in-person instruction for hybrid students in Rodrigues’s classes. Hybrid students as well as full-time distance-learning students learning from home those days will be able to see and participate in those lessons via the district’s Owl computers. The week will conclude with a final naturalist-led lesson on animal skull adaptations for all sixth-grade science students via Zoom on Feb. 26.

Foothill Horizons is part of the Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE), which La Rosa credited along with Foothill Horizons staff with working hard to make the spring field trips happen even in the COVID environment – for Hughson’s students as well as others in the area.

“I call this a COVID blessing,” La Rosa said. “I try to find the silver lining in it. I was super happy that SCOE put together something like this.”

Lessons cover ecology, geology, and plants and animals native to the foothills.

The goal, according to the Foothill Horizons website, is to provide “an interactive outdoor science experience, a collaborative learning environment and personal growth opportunities through individual challenges” to develop “respectful global citizens dedicated to stewardship in their communities and beyond.”

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