Nestled between San Francisco Bay and the great regional parks of the East Bay Hills, Oakland would seem to afford young people ample opportunity for exploring the natural world. And to a degree, that’s the case — for kids with adult caretakers who have the means and motivation to get their children into the woods and out to the shore. But for inner city kids, says Janet Jackson, an Allendale Elementary School Teacher and a Save the Redwoods League education program participant, outdoor excursions can be few and far between.
“Only one child out of my entire class last year had even been to a regional park,” says Jackson. “Most of them have never seen a redwood tree. Typically, they leave school, go home to their apartments, lock their doors, and stay there. Their world is video games and television.”
This isn’t out of choice, emphasizes Jackson. Inner city streets can be dangerous for children. And in many West Oakland households, both parents are working, including on weekends; often, a grandparent is the only supervising adult.
“One little kid last year told me he was really looking forward to spring break because his daddy was going to get some time off and they could be together,” Jackson says. “There were tears in his eyes. It broke my heart.”
Jackson does what she can to expand the horizons of her students. Each month she takes three or four students to a regional park for an extended hike. She has also participated in outreach programs sponsored by universities and conservation groups, including Exploring Your Watershed, a Save the Redwoods League project that teaches kids about the linkages between the East Bay’s redwood forests and San Francisco Bay.
“When you get nine-year-old kids into the parks, you can just see the excitement in their eyes,” she says. “These programs can really help them connect with nature — we just need more of them, and we need more help implementing them.”
Jackson observes that inner city schools are strapped for basic resources, let alone the means for ancillary programs such as nature activities.
“In our school, we have very few teachers with even five years of experience,” says Jackson, who has been teaching at Allendale for 17 years. “Most have only one year of experience, and some of those don’t even have their credentials yet — they’re working on them as they teach. When you have teachers who are inexperienced, overworked, and overwhelmed, they have a hard time taking on these extracurricular activities.”
Conservation groups such as the League are anxious to help out, observes Jackson, “but there’s only so much they can do, and only so much money they can contribute. We know their budgets aren’t unlimited. But we live in the world’s high-tech epicenter. I really think it’s time for Silicon Valley to step up, for the many tech companies we have here to connect with the conservation groups and the teachers, and really put some money and effort into inner city nature programs. We need to get these kids outside. We need to start creating the next generation of conservation advocates.”
Learn more about the how the League’s Education programs support efforts to get youth outside.