ALAMEDA -- A group of Alameda students learned about the San Francisco Bay and more during a special summer camp organized by Caitlin Shener, 17, a senior at Alameda High School.
"I did this weeklong environmental camp so I could earn the Gold Award in the Girl Scouts," Shener said. "It's like earning the Eagle Scout Award in the Boy Scouts."
Shener recruited about a dozen members of Alameda High's Sierra Club to serve as camp counselors. Together, they led more than 20 Alameda youth in educational activities on and near the Bay to "inspire environmental leaders at a young age," Shener said.
The participating students are all entering grades four to seven, so most are between 9 and 12 years of age.
The group of kids met each day for a week on Bay Farm Island, where they learned about marine life, resource management, waste reduction, pollution and related subjects. They also did arts and crafts and even cooked their own snacks.
"I liked making cardboard penguins, because those animals are an endangered species," said Edison Elementary School fourth-grader Nathanial Basco. "And I made a dolphin-shaped chocolate!"
The youngsters spent a lot of time turning over rocks on the shoreline to see what creatures live beneath the stones and to gain a better understanding of the Bay's ecosystem.
"I liked finding the little crabs," said twin sister Graciella Basco. "We have one we named Clinger, because it stays on your finger, which can hurt."
Shener and some of the camp counselors took an advanced environmental-studies course at Alameda High last year, which helped them prepare lessons and materials for the youngsters.
"I helped Caitlin out because I thought it was a good idea to get the kids to learn about the Bay and do some art projects. I also wanted to spend some time with them, which is fun," said Cari Hartidan, a senior at Alameda High.
"I thought this program was a very good idea," said Andrea Lee, also a senior at Alameda High. "It's been so much fun and a really great experience for the kids."
Shener believes that environmental education works best if it's based on life experience. "It's important that we start to not only teach environmental facts, but also to help children develop a sense of caring and respect for their environment."
The camp she organized aimed to give kids hands-on experience in their own backyard and to let older teens lead a project that empowers youth. This way, more teens can become life-long environmental stewards, Shener explains.
"I hope to inspire the next generation of green leaders by helping them create personal connections to the environment," she said. "I think my enthusiasm stems from all the time I spent outdoors when I was in elementary school and middle school."
There was plenty of enthusiasm and excitement on display when the camp ended last Friday (Aug. 16). "I found 10 crabs!" said Austin Hensley, a fourth-grader at Edison Elementary. "I like them, but some of them sting."
"It's been great," said Justin Yuen, a fifth-grader at Bay Farm Elementary. "We learned about the environment and made cool nametags. I got to become an electricity expert and made an oven out of pizza boxes. And look at the fishing pole I made!"
Given such positive feedback, "The camp's been a success," Shener said. "The kids got to experience the Bay in ways most people don't ever get the chance to."