Connie Smith, the Conservancy’s new Director of Education, knows the impact docents in the Third Grade Naturalist Program can have on South Bay families. In 1995, the year the program began, Connie was a third grade teacher at Rancho Vista Elementary School and the parent of three young children. “What I learned from the Volunteer Education Docent in my classroom that year changed the way I brought up my own children here on the Peninsula. It opened my eyes, and therefore my children’s eyes, to the incredible ecology, geology, and natural history that is right here at our fingertips.” Later, as third graders at Lunada Bay, each of Connie’s children had the great privilege of learning from veteran Docent, Sue Walsh, who has been inspiring kids for 23 years in the Third Grade Naturalist Program.
Docents are volunteers who enjoy sharing their love of nature. Many former school teachers and retired professionals have completed Conservancy training to teach four natural science lessons and lead a field trip at one local elementary school. The docents love the kids and their teachers. Most enjoy it so much they remain active for years. Sue Walsh, who has been a docent for 18 years, received the Conservancy’s 2017 Deena Sheridan Education Award for her contribution to the program.
Lessons that Sue Walsh taught a decade ago inspired one boy to become a young naturalist. Austin Nash, now a senior at Palos Verdes High School and his twin brother, Brandon, have together volunteered over 200 hours as Team Leaders for Conservancy Outdoor Volunteer Days and as Adopt-a-Plot volunteers in Lunada Canyon. Austin was recently awarded a National Geographic youth grant to create an outdoor learning lab at Lunada Bay Elementary school.
With admission to both the University of Colorado, Boulder and UC Berkeley, Austin explains, “As a young child, I enjoyed being outdoors, but I was not connected to the hidden intricacies of the natural world. The Third Grade Naturalist program helped me unlock this world. This ability to see the natural world around me as an interconnected story is what has driven me to pursue ecological research and conservation photography and writing. I am grateful the Third-Grade Naturalist Program helped open up a path to a lifetime of learning and fulfillment in the world outdoors.” To learn more about becoming a docent, please email Brittany Goldsmith at (310) 541-7613 x215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.