I attended a naturalist led bilingual family program at Las Gallinas Ponds in San Rafael, CA with WildCare. WildCare operates a wildlife rehabilitation hospital in Marin County and offers on-site, in-classroom, and outdoor education programs. Juan-Carlos Solis, Director of Education leads fascinating monthly bilingual family walks.

This month’s program was ‘Birdwatching For Kids at the Ponds’. Families learned about the family life of waterfowl that overwinter in this area, nesting habits, mating displays and other birds. There were about 10 families on the walk, most of which were Spanish speaking. These families are from the Canal community in San Rafael, home to many Spanish speaking immigrant families in Marin County. Through outreach efforts, Juan-Carlos has been able to reach out to families in this community and expose them to the outdoors.  WildCare takes families to nearby natural spaces, these locations are not visited by this community because some lack transportation or do not know that these places exist. This organization provides transportation for families, which is essential to the success of this program.

WildCare strives to ensure that all children, regardless of their socioeconomic situations, gain access to meaningful outdoor and hands-on environmental education experiences. For many of these children, WildCare’s outdoor educational programs are their first experience in natural areas located only 10-15 miles from their community. Having a bilingual naturalist has doubled the number of socioeconomically disadvantaged students served with WildCare programs. Juan-Carlos has led efforts to market WildCare education programs to a diverse audience of teachers, school administrators, and family members; thus increasing the number of Hispanic program participants by 16% for school programs and 70% for family programs.

It is always great to see the children’s sparked interest in birds and other wildlife as they hear their calls, observe their behavior or look at them up close through some binoculars. I enjoyed this family program and believe that all students need to be exposed to these outdoor education experiences to increase their understanding of the world around them and to inspire them to protect wildlife and natural areas. Exposing a diversity of students to natural areas and the importance of conservation through hands-on environmental education programs is something I look forward to doing during my internship. Thank-you to Juan-Carlos for allowing me to tag along on your program!

To learn more about WildCare and environmental education opportunities, visit www.wildcarebayarea.org.

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