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The City Journals

Splash of fun whets Jordan High students’ desire to learn

May 18, 2018 10:40AM ● By Julie Slama

Jordan High AP environmental biology and biology students paddled alongside dolphins near Newport Beach during their trip to Southern California where they learned about unique ecosystems. (Heather Gooch/Jordan High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

For years, Jordan High AP environmental biology and biology teacher Heather Gooch has taken students to learn about the unique ecosystems in California’s Santa Monica National Forest and in the Crystal Cove shoreline. 

“I have these days so packed, I thought I had it down, but this year, I changed it up and perfected it,” she said about the four-day excursion. It is an option for her AP environmental science students in the fall, and then it’s opened up to her AP biology students. 

This year, near the end of the 34 students’ trip, Gooch arranged for them to take three outriggers from Newport Beach. It ended up being one of the trip’s highlights.

“We went out and it was sunny, but then we got caught in the rain and just got drenched,” said junior Caroline Winegar about the group, who mostly were in shorts for the California sun. “Luckily, the sun came back out and we dried off before flying back to Utah. But there were dolphins that swam right along side the kayak. It was a lot of fun, but unforgettable.”

Their trip began with the group staying at Camp Shalom in the Santa Monica National Forest, with their program conducted by the environmental educational group, Nature Bridge. The program was designed for the students to learn about plant adaptation, water evaporation, carbon cycle and ecosystems.

The students were divided into groups and mixed in with other student groups attending Camp Shalom. Through hikes in the area, they learned about bird life, erosion and estuaries.

“We saw how quickly the environment changed where the freshwater met the salt water,” said junior Shin Hunter, who took a keen interest in examining rocks during the trip. “We went from sand and rocks to more greenery with plants and forests with streams. It was a drastic change. We were able to learn and have experiences we could only read about in a classroom. To be able to touch it and retain the experience firsthand was worthwhile.”

Another group learned about yucca plants that are native to hot and arid climates.

“I hadn’t seen a yucca plant before, so when our guide asked us what it was, he showed us how they have adapted to the costal sand, mountains and dry areas we were in and how its seeds disperse when the plant dies,” sophomore Isaac Service said. 

While in the Santa Monica National Forest, students kept field notes, made observations, prepared hypotheses about what they were learning and graphed data they collected so they could conduct their own experiments. Service focused on yucca plants; he designed his question and hypothesis and then climbed through several bushes to mark different locations so he could learn how plants adapted to different ecology.

“I learned a lot of terms that I will be able to use as I study more biology,” Service said, who added that he liked being able to explore the remote and peaceful area of Banana Ridge. 

The group also learned about personal responsibility as they recorded food waste left over from their meals by measuring and graphing that data.

It wasn’t all serious, Winegar said. When the group brought back part of a discarded yucca plant, it was quickly named Ron, and made it into several photos. Insects, dolphins — Danny, Dougy, Davey and Dukey — and other critters they came in contact with also were given names. 

The students got a chance to check out tide pools at both Leo Carrillo State Beach and Crystal Cove where they saw a variety of marine life, including an orange snail Winegar named Sandra. 

“When we talk about what we saw and did, we remember all the crazy names and stories,” she said. “It was amazing to see so much marine life, but when the dolphins were within 20 yards of us on the kayak, I thought they would go right under us.”

Gooch said this change in the schedule was incredible.

“For many, they got to do something — be on a kayak outrigger in the ocean — they had never done before and saw something — dolphins swimming alongside them — that they’ve never seen before. It really makes it exciting,” she said.

A part of the trip the students also appreciated was helping to clean up the beaches. 

“I learned how pollution can wash down the canyons and end up on the beaches and in the ocean,” Winegar said. “It made me more aware of trash and how it is a problem. It has become my passion to help put an end to it.”