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Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Oct 17, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugVolunteer training at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center will start Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. Classes meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon, for nine weeks.  Topics include native plants, ecology, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, geology, history and interpretative techniques. Instructors include noted professionals in the various fields. The cost of the training is $45, which includes all training materials (instruction manual, field guide, T-shirt and related items).

Other volunteer opportunities are also available at Placerita Canyon Natural Area that do not require the 9-week training program, such as office helper and maintenance team member. Bilingual (English/Spanish) volunteers are especially needed.

For more information call or visit:

Placerita Canyon Natural Area

19152 Placerita Canyon Road, Newhall CA 91321

(661) 259-7721

Email: info@placerita.org

 

Photos: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

Ron Kraus leads a nature tour. Photos: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

This training is extremely interesting. You will learn all of the basics to better understand and appreciate your environment here in the Santa Clarita valley, and more specifically in the Placerita Canyon Natural Area.

Plants, animals, even the history of this canyon will unfold their secrets, and you will have a fantastic time learning all of the details. You will meet a terrific group of people who share your passion, are waiting for your friendship, and will want to work with you.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, I can tell you from personal experience it is not. The park is beautiful, I agree, but the people who volunteer at Placerita are an exceptional and unusual breed.

It remains a mystery to me, after being a docent at Placerita for 27 years, how we attract such a high caliber of volunteers. If you like nature and children, it seems to sort people from the start. You can watch new volunteers blossom with interest; they learn to have fun with the children and expand their minds as they dig deeper in their study of nature. They drop their ego because working together for the same goal becomes most important, and they have a good time with each other. We have many social activities aiming at this purpose, and also many trips are organized to get more nature education – but also to sample restaurants and just have fun.

eve101713dAgain this year, we will also train volunteers wishing to become active at Vasquez Rocks Nature Center. They will receive the basic training at Placerita and will have different classes at Vasquez Rocks to address that specific environment.

I mentioned the word, “docent.” What is a docent? Docent is a title given to persons who serve as guides and educators for the institutions they serve, usually on a voluntary basis.  In many cases, docents, in addition to their prescribed function as guides, also conduct research utilizing the institution’s facilities.

A Google search reveals a good explanation. Prospective docents generally undergo an intensive training process at the expense of the educational institution, which teaches them good communicative and interpretive skills, as well as introducing them to the institution’s collection and its historical significance. They are also provided with reading lists to add to the basic information provided during training and must then “shadow” experienced docents as they give their tours before ultimately conducting tours on their own.

Our core program is to provide nature education to school groups coming to the center, from Tuesday to Friday. The program is composed of two parts: One explains the food web, followed by an animal presentation. The second part is out on the trail with the children and their teachers, reinforcing what was taught in the classroom, showing examples of interaction in the wild, talking about plants and animals seen on the trails and what their roles are.

eve101713aThe school groups coming to the center are typically second to sixth grade, but we have a special program for kindergarten and first grade.

If schools are not able to come to the nature center, we use our outreach program.  We go to them and give our presentations so the children are able to benefit from our education even if the trip on the school bus is not a possibility for them.

We also participate in many events in our community, bringing not only educational material such as animal skulls, acorns, pods and seeds, but the animals, too.  Our table is usually mobbed by members of the public who are always eager to ask questions about tarantulas, coyotes, snakes and other animals we bring. I can assure you it is not a volunteer opportunity where you will get bored.

The program is followed by people of all age groups – from students who take the class as a complement to their college classes, to young people looking for a job, to mothers and fathers who can insert this class in their schedule, to retirees who want to start a second volunteer career.

eve101713cMany of our volunteers are men who bring their business expertise to the center; consequently the board meeting is conducted and the decisions are made in an efficient, corporate manner. We follow a strategic plan which gets updated on a regular basis, so we keep track of our responsibilities and our progress against the plan.

We ask a commitment of one year of service for the Nature Center at the end of the class.

As you probably noted at the beginning of this article, the education level of this class is high and the price of the class is more than reasonable. So if you have the time and the inclination, call the office, ask more questions, but consider joining the docent training. You will never regret it, and I can say from experience that it will change your life.

I used to tell the new classes: Watch out. After this class, the books you read and even the photos you take will be different; the movies you enjoy will change; maybe even the food you eat won’t be the same.

Be prepared for a pleasant surprise. It will enrich your life forever.

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.

 

 

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