Peninsula students getting lessons on the outdoors thanks to local nonprofit 

Middle school students from Peninsula communities are hitting the outdoors for lessons on science, ecology and land stewardship through excursions to San Bruno Mountain with a local nonprofit organization.

San Bruno Mountain Watch's Middle School Environmental Education Program currently works with students at Lipman Middle School in Brisbane and Robertson Intermediate School in Daly City's Bayshore neighborhood, but it may expand to include other schools if funding becomes available.

Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch, which is dedicated to preserving the mountain, said that in a typical school year, participating students receive five lessons in indoor classrooms and an additional five lessons are given in outdoor settings. With funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, McIntire has been able to hire an environmental educator to help with the lessons, and additional help comes from the Mid-Peninsula Boys & Girls Club, which provides vans and drivers to transport the youths to the mountain.

Lipman Middle School science teacher Holly Rios said her collaboration with McIntire began several years ago when he asked if her students could make posters supporting his campaign to stop developers from building luxury homes on a section of the mountain in Brisbane. Rios told McIntire that while she couldn't involve her students in a political struggle, he was welcome to teach the youngsters about the mountain.

The teacher touted the educational opportunities the outdoor adventures have offered her students.

"I'll say I want my kids to learn about photosynthesis, for example, and Ken will develop a lesson," Rios said.

Activities have included removing some invasive plants on San Bruno Mountain and replacing them with native plants, which Rios said has been fun for the students.

"Their favorite thing is to pull the weeds," Rios said, "They love it, especially the boys. They have their tools and they feel like warriors."

Sixth-grade teacher Eddie Arias said the education program is a welcome addition at the underfunded Robertson Intermediate School, where about 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.

McIntire said that for some of Arias' disadvantaged students, the program provides their first real exposure to nature.

"You get a certain number of kids who are a little nervous about being surrounded by plants -- they're not used to balancing on trails with rocks and uneven surfaces," McIntire said, "It can be a hard sell getting them interested, and a lot depends on how skilled the teacher is. Eddie is very skilled."

Arias said that through the outdoor program, his sixth-graders are creating environmental education lessons for fourth-grade students at Bayshore Elementary. The educator is also organizing a native-plant sale featuring plants grown by his students.

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