By Anne Marie Tipton, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve
Surrounded by the growing cities of Tijuana, Imperial Beach and San Diego, lies a “Wetland of International Importance” called the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (TRNERR). It is an area filled with the sounds of birds, lizards running around, cacti and other native plants. The diversity of habitats and the range of human and physical problems facing the Reserve make the area rich for study in both the biological and social sciences. Instilling stewardship of this land and its resources is of upmost importance to California State Parks, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As such, the Reserve carries exciting, hands-on education programs for students as well as tours, informative lectures and other outreach. Just recently, students from Garfield High School in San Diego visited Border Field State Park in May for a new integrated science and social science school program. California State Parks education staff from TRNERR developed this program as a response to California’s new education Social Science Framework. The new framework encourages integration with the California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts.
The TRNERR education staff decided to develop the new program when the local coordinator for the California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC) region in San Diego, a program of the California Department of Education, suggested that the Reserve provide interdisciplinary field experiences, considering its binational watershed and staff experience interpreting history. The TRNERR State Parks education staff was up to the challenge and modified or developed three activities for the school program, including a brand new WWII field lesson.
TRNERR held its first 11th grade teacher training for the field experience earlier this year. Two teachers from Garfield High School, a school that serves students at-risk to drop out, participated in the training. After attending the training, Science Teacher Camille Fowler and Social Studies Teacher Michelle Sanchez booked the first school program on May 25.
The program included a trip to Border Field State Park, which used to have WWII era structures called Base-End Stations that were used by the Army to look for Japanese vessels out in the ocean. The Base-End Stations are now in in U.S. Homeland Security property, so State Parks educators needed a Border Patrol escort in order for students to visit that area. The students rotated through three topics, including World War II Base-End Stations (with our escort), management of cross-border pollution, and vegetation sampling. The Base-end station activity included use of trigonometry to triangulate a fictional Japanese vessel.
“My students were inspired and view the estuary as a living system that deserves our attention because it is the water that connects us all,” said science teacher Fowler.
“I highly recommend the TRNERR interdisciplinary field trip to teachers looking to collaborate in the areas of the Next Generation Science Standards and Social Studies. There is so much to see and learn about the history, ecology, and the human impacts on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.” She added that her students also ran a transect, identified plant species, and recorded data. They learned about pollution that enters the U.S. and the tireless efforts of Reserve staff to keep our natural resources healthy.
The Tijuana Estuary NP Point of Interest is the largest coastal wetland in Southern California, with primarily shallow water habitat and a stopover point on the Pacific Flyway with hundreds of migratory and resident birds. The Tijuana Estuary, on the border to Mexico, is considered a unique part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. The National Estuarine Research Reserve is a State and Federal partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and, in this case, California State Parks. For more information about how to get your school involved with this program, visit http://trnerr.org/education/.