Sixth graders make their mark, clean creek

Students banded together to help clear out trash and overgrowth in Putah Creek. (Courtesy photo)

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A handful of the sixth graders didn’t attend this year’s outdoor school trip, but that didn’t stop Winters Middle School teachers from providing them with an unforgettable school week outdoors with Mother Nature of their own.

This year, the sixth graders’ camping expedition took them to an outdoor school in Santa Cruz area redwoods. While the majority of the class was gone from Feb. 6–10, around 40 students stayed home. To prevent fear of missing out, WMS teachers Morgan Perez and Melanie Ellison opted to give them a take on a local educational experience outside.

“The overall goal of our week was similar to the outdoor camp’s. There was connecting with nature, leaving it better than we found it, and also developing friendships,” said Ellison. “That week, the students did some in-depth nature observation and documentation. There were also team-building activities like the human knot, capture the flag and kickball too. We just had them do outdoor, physical activities and wanted them to be outside and moving as much 

as possible during the week. Then we worked for several hours preparing this area of the school for our future, outdoor classroom/garden with tables around it.”

No weed was spared from its fate of being yanked out by its roots by the sixth graders sporting their homemade, tie-dyed bandanas. The students’ week-long adventure was far from over, however, as Ellison and Perez took them on a day-long field trip down to the Putah Creek Nature Park.

Students pulled out a variety of items including toys, bottles and tires from the Putah Creek waters. (Courtesy photo)

“From 8:15 a.m. till 1 p.m., we were out there walking around the creek making observations, doing a nature scavenger hunt and doing a major trash cleanup at the low point in the creek where the salmon mural is. I thought it’d be a 45-minute activity, but the students were so into it and they didn’t want to stop,” Ellison said. “They hauled out wooden pallets, big pieces of pressure-treated lumber, garbage bags on top of garbage (bags) full of trash and tires.”

Ellison wrote to the city and they sent a big pickup truck to haul it. She said she initially thought they were “just going to collect a few shopping bags full, but (the students) pulled out so much trash they left the space spotless.”

“Many of them had not been down there, so this was just a wonderful day of them discovering, being curious about and appreciating this jewel of Winters in the Putah Creek Nature Park,” Ellison said. 

From beautifying their school campus to cleaning up nature within Winters, these sixth graders thrived with this unique learning opportunity. Beyond the pride, she felt watching these youngsters learn, Ellison simply sat back and enjoyed watching them smile.

“I’m in the classroom with these kids in math class for most of the year, and it’s not always the happiest place for them to be. But it was so wonderful to see them this happy. I’ve never seen most of them as happy as they were laughing, skipping and working hard and smiling the way they did when we were down there at Putah Creek,” said Ellison. “There was so much happiness when they were outside in nature, moving and being curious. We also went out into the yard and did some fort-building because there’d been a tree that’d fallen. So, I brought my pruning tools, we cut it up and built stick forts in the back corner of the schoolyard. Then we did carpentry one day, and I brought in some scrap wood, hammers and nails and they just used their imagination to build stuff.”

Educator Melanie Ellison makes fresh lemonade with sixth-grade students.(Courtesy photo)

Many of the students mentioned they had a lot of fun playing games like Capture the Flag and Sharks and Minnows, making lemonade and bracelets, and even having some time bonding together. Some of them said the experience of cleaning up the campus and the creek was valuable.

“We learned that working together can get a lot done,” said Francisco Reyes.

“Picking up trash at Putah Creek was very fun and it gave me a feeling inside that I have never felt,” said Caden Selby.

“I helped clean a lot of trash at Putah Creek — it was a lot of trash. I couldn’t believe us humans would harm Earth like that,” said Sarahi Sanchez.

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