Gunpowder Point is bathed in ocean breeze and bird poop. It is now a protected marshland in what seems to be the last square foot of undeveloped land in Chula Vista. Bordered by freeway noise to the east, and insulated by acres of natural foliage, the Nature Center leans into that stealthy wind.
And all of this matters. The Nature Center is less than two miles from El Milagro and is perhaps a missing piece to the persistent dream we have had of utilizing the natural resources of San Diego Bay as a daily classroom. It is one thing to go on a field trip … it is another thing to attend school in the slough, to walk among the endangered Clapper Rails, and observe the hypnotic swimming patterns of sand sharks. Every day. As a part of the curriculum.
The Chula Vista Nature Center is facing tough times in the struggling economy. Chula Vista itself was once listed among the fastest growing cities in America. Today, whole rows of streets and neighborhoods prop “For Sale” signs on foreclosed lawns, where the dreams of families were packed so hastily and moved, months ago, to higher ground. The city is in trouble. And they fund the Nature Center. So we want to help.
After years of diligent budget management under the watchful eye of Mr. Wizard, Mueller Charter School is well positioned to weather the otherwise unforgiving fury of a distressed state budget. So we want to lease a classroom space from the Nature Center. We want to move our middle school science classroom there and weave them into the daily rotation. Instead of going to science in room 902, their classroom would now be located on Gunpowder Point. We can provide the City of Chula Vista a badly needed new funding stream to save the Nature Center; they can provide us a chance to model learning in the real world– the charter vision come to full fruition.
This is an area rich in history. It was once home to the Kumeyaay Indians and Spanish settlers. It still bears the ruins of the old Hercules building where kelp was harvested for gunpowder and potash in World War I. It was a lemon grove and movie set. It was the scene of horrific fire that destroyed it all. And beneath the protected marsh and slough, you just know, generations of human settlement have collected layer upon layer of artifacts.
Imagine children rotating through varied learning opportunities over the course of a school day: contributing to data collection and exhibit management, developing individual research projects that make a significant contribution to the body of knowledge accumulated here, serving as museum docents and guides at the sting ray petting area, performing community service to help maintain the sprawling acres, advocating for green energy. Imagine children not just simulating the work of science, but being scientists. Contributing. Developing not just an appreciation for the fragile interdependence of living ecosystems, but a profound reverence for their own place in the world. Here there are owls and sharks, reptile and eel aquariums, there are marshland aviaries, and shoreline birds. There are rare sea turtles. There is an adult bald eagle.
Every day, every student would pursue answers to one urgent question that scientists all over the planet are researching. Something like this: “How do human developments along our natural waterfronts contribute to and compromise the fragile ecosystems that exist there?” Our 7th and 8th graders would explore, investigate, experiment, and publish their findings through wikis and blogs in collaboration with children from around the world.
This is real science. Authentic learning. John Knox says you have to teach and learn science with all five senses– and for all you’re worth. You have to be outside. In the middle of it. You have to get your feet muddy and splash aquarium waste water on your shoes. Appreciate the stench of the owl barn. The sting of the cactus needle. The rotting kelp.
We are poised for an extraordinary partnership and, for our students, the learning experience of a lifetime. Here on Gunpowder Point, where early Chula Vistans fought the world war from the banks of San Diego Bay, there is an opportunity to give meaning to the daily joy of learning. Here in the marsh and the wetlands– new fire.