Students in grades PK-8 participated in class hikes to end of the first semester. For sixth graders, the hikes presented another opportunity to continue their year-long study of the Ventura River watershed. As part of an integrated lab science and social science curriculum, OVS sixth graders learn about the natural history and ecology of the watershed. They begin the year venturing to the top of Reyes Peak in the Los Padres National Forest and, after multiple field trips, hikes and explorations, conclude at the mouth of the Ventura River. The project is unique to OVS and was developed to give students a deeper understanding of their local natural environment.
Students in grades PK-8 will embark on Class Hikes on Friday, January 25. Read more about this school tradition in an article written by science teacher Matt Inman, who also serves as the Outdoor Education Coordinator at Lower Campus.
By Matt Inman
The history of class hikes at Ojai Valley School is a long and storied one. Beginning more than 40 years ago, early Spuds at the Upper Campus were charged with traveling out of the valley from their newly constructed campus, over the mountains near the shoulder of Hines Peak, hiking throughout the night by flashlight, to arrive at the Middle Lions campground just as the sun was rising. Amazed hikers arrived to find a massive breakfast feast staged by their teachers awaiting them. This bonding experience was a memorable challenge called the “Topa Topper.” It was a legendary event that fostered the students’ sense of unity, and caused them to coalesce into one interdependent team.
Gradually, throughout the years, the Lower Campus absorbed and built on this tradition. First came a spring hike for the eighth graders, with an annual route up to Nordhoff Peak, where a fire lookout tower used to exist. Students back on campus wished their departing role models well, and then trained the school telescope at the peak where they would eventually see their mentors and peers waving at them with excitement.
In the early 1990’s, the value of this experience was recognized and expanded into younger grades. Class by class, additional destinations were added that were unique to each group. After several years of exploration, the seventh graders settled on a hike up Howard Creek to the ridge overlooking town, and down the Gridley Trail. With the help of science and woodshop teacher Ryan Lang, sixth graders established a class hike near the confluence of the two Matilija Creek forks that was integrated into their Watershed Program.
With a middle school program firmly in place, fifth graders began walking downstream from the decommissioned Beaver Camp on the Middle Sespe Trail, arriving at the old Lions camp/Piedra Blanca trailhead. Fourth graders now visit a favorite destination of former school president Mike Hermes (L54) known as Turtle Pond, while the third graders get their first look at the legendary OVS swimming spot known as the 10’ Hole. Second graders now hike a short distance to the famous White Rocks formations where they have lunch and scramble on the Chief, Big Elephant and Little Elephant formations.
In recent years, Kindergarten and First grade students joined together to tour the Ventura River Preserve, a local trail system managed by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. Even our youngest students in the Pre-K have jumped in to explore the Ojai Meadow Preserve just several blocks from school!
One of the biggest changes throughout the years was the formation of an iconic All-School Class Hikes Day. This his much-loved event is the culminating day of our first semester. Students arrive at school in their outdoor gear, make their own sack lunch at the Wallace Burr Pergola, and join the logistical migration of loading into buses and vans for transport to their trailhead. It’s an exciting way to end the semester, and one that symbolizes the strength and unity of all that OVS has to offer.
Class Hikes are just part of the Adventure!
At Ojai Valley School, we offer one of the most comprehensive outdoor education programs of any independent school. We engage students in environmental studies and exploration of the mountains, canyons, deserts, and beaches in the West. Students in grades 6 to 12 have the opportunity to go on camping trips and weekend adventures that include rock climbing, mountaineering, surfing, skiing and snowboarding, horseback riding, and much more. As we strive to develop the intellectual and personal growth of all of our students, Outdoor Education is a core part of that experience as they learn to overcome real challenges that may be physical, social, organizational, and personal. (It’s also super fun.)
Check out the Calendars below to learn more about Upcoming Trips!
A bobcat prowls the soccer field at the Upper Campus, shifting its gaze late at night at any slight crunch of the brush. A fully grown black bear plops into a water trough at the nearby baseball field to cool off after an active, hot summer day. A young deer casually strolls up to a gate on a dirt road that doubles as the high school cross country course, sniffing the flowers sprouting up alongside the road.
With the large number of noteworthy animals that call the 195-acre Upper Campus home, you’d think the high school students who live and go to school here were tending a zoo. However, all of these animals roaming what is affectionately known as “The Hill” are part of a different kind of exhibit.
Instead of being live in front of smiling faces, they’ve been captured by game cameras set up in recent years by Advanced Placement Environmental Science students. The game cameras add an innovative aspect to the AP curriculum while pioneering a new way to see wildlife on campus. Most who study and work at the Upper Campus will never see half of the creatures captured on the cameras, so these photos provide a taste of what happens in the outdoors when nobody is around and nobody is watching.
Last year, the game cameras were a supplementary assignment to the curriculum, but this year they are serving a more vital and science-centered purpose, allowing students to record yearlong changes in the animals that roam campus.
“Before we were just looking for cute animals, but we’re now making it more scientific,” Wickenhaeuser said. “We can get an idea of what animals are out at what time, what they’re doing, and what their seasonal variations might be.”
Ojai Valley School launches the 2017-18 school year in September, welcoming 288 new and returning students to its two campuses in Ojai! The beginning of the year includes a full calendar of academics, outdoor education trips, the start of fall sports, college counseling, and much more. Visit the calendar to learn more
May 19 – If one of the goals of Outdoor Education is to teach perspective, then the Upper Campus whitewater rafting trip to the Kern River last weekend should earn high marks. Fourteen high school students and two teachers trekked to the southern side of the Sierra Nevada to tackle the rough water of the Kern and tour the Trail of Giants at Sequoia National Park.
Following years of drought and low flows, a combination of heavy winter snow and warm spring temperatures have combined this year to produce a roiling Kern River, so much so that students were initially shocked at how much whitewater they would traverse.
“When we were driving up the canyon to get our campsite we saw these expert runs,” said sophomore Clover Griffin. “I think everybody got a little freaked out looking at that…But once we were in the boat, the guides were really helpful and it never felt overwhelming. It was really fun!”
Indeed, aided by able river guides the students learned to work as a team, taking three runs down the Kern, each progressively harder than the one before it. Outdoor Education Director Zach Byars, a swift water rescue instructor before coming to OVS, taught the students all about river safety, showing them how to read the water and avoid trouble spots. And he taught them how to have fun on the river, providing a new perspective and a healthy dose of respect for the waterways in our backyard.
Check out photos from the Upper Kern River trip on the OVS website. Middle school students also just returned from their own trip down the Kern. More photos from their May 19-20 trip can be found here: Middle School on the Kern
More in OVS Outdoor Education…
Trip leaders have captured some incredible pictures during spring backpacking and weekend outdoor excursions. Be sure to visit the website media galleries to view pictures from the Middle School camping trips, the Sespe Backpacking trip, and the San Onofre surf trip.
It was windy. It was cold. And, oh yeah, it snowed.
But for a group of eight seasoned Ojai Valley School students – all alums of the Lower Campus, known for its vigorous outdoor education program – none of that mattered.
Boldly setting out to conquer the eastern Sierra Nevada, the students traveled up Highway 395 to Rock Creek and then hiked nearly a dozen miles to Gem Lake, elevation nearly 10,000 feet. After setting up camp, some hiked even higher. And they all soothed their sore muscles in hot springs just south of Mammoth.
All in all, it was a memorable outing and an excellent example of the reinvigorated Outdoor Education program at the Upper Campus, now under the direction of new history teacher and outdoor education coordinator Zach Byars. Read more in a story by sophomore Caroline Morrow (L15) on the student journalism website, On The Hill, and click here to see a gallery of photos from the trip.
At OVS, we offer an Outdoor Education program that rivals any independent school in the nation. Our mild weather provides ample opportunities for students to venture into the mountains, deserts and beaches of California throughout the academic year.
In the fall, high school and middle school students venture out for multi-day base camping trips and weekend trips for mountain biking, surfing, rock climbing, mountaineering, horseback riding, and kayaking.
See more photos of our recent outdoor adventures:
Click the PDFs below to see the list of upcoming 2016/17 outdoor trips:
By Natasha Freudmann, Class of 2017
On a rocky plateau overlooking miles and miles of the Pacific Ocean, Ojai Valley School students crouched over hardened soil, shovels in hand. With quiet focus, they overturned clumps of earth, creating new homes for plants native to the Channel Islands chain, just off the Ventura County coastline.
It was a long way to go to till some soil. But this was not your run-of-the-mill gardening project.
The students, members of OVS’ Advanced Placement Environmental Science class, sailed in February to Anacapa Island in the first of what will be a series of excursions to Channel Islands National Park for environmental education and restoration projects. Fifth graders made the trip in March. This week, middle school students will depart for Santa Cruz Island to continue this field work and the senior class will anchor these projects with a trip in late May.
In partnership with the national park, OVS earlier this school year was awarded a $4,000 Hands on the Land grant, part of a national effort to connect students, teachers and volunteers with public lands and waterways. OVS was one of 22 institutions nationwide to receive the grant, which came about through a collaborative process between parents, the park service and the high school and middle school staffs.
Funded by the the National Environmental Education Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency, the grant in coming months will be used by students and teachers on both campuses to access the islands and use them as living laboratories, tackling projects including working on-site in nurseries, removing invasive vegetation, and gathering and compiling plant restoration data.
“This grant rapidly advances our goal to partner with Channel Islands National Park on long-term restoration and research projects,” said AP Environmental Science teacher John Wickenhaeuser, who as the school’s director of technology and sustainability spearheaded the grant-writing effort.
“With this funding nearly 100 students in grades 5 through 12 will travel to the islands this school year, to remove invasive species, plant natives and learn from expert field biologists,” Wickenhaeuser added. “It is an extraordinary opportunity for our students and our school to learn, participate, and make a huge difference on the truly special Channel Islands.”
On the school’s first visit to the islands as part of the grant, students embarked on a mission to learn about Dudleya, a plant native to Anacapa Island, one of the five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park. The plant, like many others native to the island, has been crowded out by invasive ice plant, which was brought to the island in the mid-20th century for landscaping and erosion control.
After hours of education and labor to transplant the Dudleya, more than 100 new plants were in the ground. Despite the hard work, students were enthusiastic about the project – especially with the added benefit of working and learning outdoors.
“It’s awesome to be out of the classroom and having fun out here,” said senior Jack Gentry, who joined eight other Advanced Placement students on the inaugural service project. “I’m super glad I had this opportunity.”
Lower Campus parent Annie Little, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, accompanied the AP class to the island. Little spoke earlier this year as part of the school’s Guest Lecture series about her work restoring sea birds, including the bald eagle, to the Channel Islands, and she was instrumental in connecting OVS to the current service project.
“With the Fish and Wildlife Service we try and encourage kids to come out and get involved with restoration projects,” Little said. “We have a whole program of connecting kids to nature. This is part of that mission and a great opportunity for the OVS kids to get out and do some hands-on work.”
Not only will the grant provide great opportunities for students to learn about the islands and their ecosystems, its objectives dovetail nicely with the AP Environmental Science curriculum and advance the school’s long-standing commitment to hands-on learning.
“I think it’s all about experiential learning,” Little said. “You guys aren’t just sitting in a classroom learning about restoration, you’re actually doing it yourselves. You’ve experienced [restoration] so it provides you with a great learning opportunity. It brings more of the textbook into real life and you get to really experience it.”
Monique Navarro, education coordinator for Channel Islands National Park, couldn’t agree more. Moreover, she thinks the visits could help ignite in some students a passion to pursue environmental education and activism in the future.
“I think [this] can inspire students to think of different opportunities for what to study at university and beyond, and what different job opportunities are out there,” Navarro said. “[It can] also get students to appreciate and to protect these resources, so it’s our responsibility to preserve and protect them.”
The grant funds will be available through the end this school year. Future activities include a fifth-grade trip to Anacapa Island, a middle school backpacking trip to Santa Cruz Island, and a senior trip to Santa Cruz Island.
While school officials ponder future uses, the focus will remain the same.
On the windswept plateau at Anacapa Island late last month, senior Ally Feiss worked with several partners to scoop out the stubborn earth and plug in Dudleya, creating in about an hour a field of light-green succulents, the color of green beans, that had not been there previously.
Afterward, students worked in pairs to lug bulky water jugs from plant to plant, giving each of the new island natives a long drink.
“It was really surprising looking back that we as a group had done so much in such a little amount of time,” Ally said. “Aside from the fact that we are doing island education and restoration, it was nice to see how a little work goes a long way.”
Indeed, on this little island, the OVS students made a big difference – strengthening the habitat for native species and paving the way for future restoration work.
“The purpose of the grant is to provide an opportunity for kids to get experience out in nature and have a positive impact on the environment,” Little said. “This restoration project is important for trying to recover the island and the island habitat, and it provides the OVS kids a great opportunity for real, hands-on restoration.”
Click here to see photos from the 5th grade trip to Anacapa Island in March.
February 1 – Students in grades K-8 celebrated the end of the first semester with traditional class hikes into the nearby Sespe Wilderness last week. Elementary and Middle School students trekked to and from destinations such as Piedra Blanca, Lookout Laura, Gridley Trail, and more. On the heels a recent rainstorm, students found swimming holes and creeks running in the Los Padres National Forest and enjoyed beautiful sunny weather during a full day of hiking and exploration.
“Class hikes are a great way of preparing for the spring camping trips, especially for the middle school,” said Head of School Gary Gartrell. ” It also builds class identity and continues a school tradition that began generations ago.”
September — If you’re looking for a definition of experiential education, look no further than the sixth grade science classroom at Ojai Valley School. We take integrated hands-on learning to a higher level by leading students on an exploration of the local watershed, which began this week as the sixth-graders ventured to Reyes Peak on a rainy morning to see first-hand how water enters our local environment.
“The whole valley is our classroom — and our playground,” sixth-grade science teacher Dustin Vail told parents at Back to School night. Indeed, the watershed project supplements the earth science curriculum as students participate in numerous field trips to the Los Padres National Forest, Matilija Dam, Ventura River, Friends Ranch citrus packinghouse, local wastewater treatment plant, and more.
The watershed study is complimented by the language arts reading list, which includes the Newbury Award-winning young adult novel “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. Under the guidance of Vail and teachers Ryan Lang and Vanessa Herrera, the students practiced survival techniques they learned while reading the story of thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson who faces life or death in the Northern Wilderness.
This blend of earth science, literature, history, and outdoor education all combine into an integrated exploration of the environment as part of the sixth-grade curriculum.