As the fifth graders gather around their teachers and the tall stranger who organizes them, there is an immediate excitement in the air. No classroom. No desks. No bulletin boards. Yet, there will certainly be learning today. Two pioneer instructors and their students from Truckee and Glenshire Elementary Schools are partaking in a program, on a field trip in their own backyard so to speak, at the Sagehen Creek Field Station. Here, a mere 20-minute drive from Truckee, the outdoors will become the new educator.

Candy Blesse, the impetus for the program, has had a dream for many, many years. Initially, in 1997, she started the yearly field trip to the Yosemite Institute with her fifth grade GATE students (Gifted and Talented Education), led by the Institute’s well-trained field instructors. She also participated, along with other Truckee fifth grade classes, in the annual field trips to Marin Headlands and Pigeon Point. However, while Blesse enjoyed the excursions to the Bay Area exploring the coastline and learning the marine ecosystem she questioned the benefits of the costly and distant field trips. Instead, she proposed to engage students in learning about their own environment. How much do they really know about their surroundings in the Tahoe-Truckee area, Blesse wondered. What do they know about the animals? What have they learned about the plants and trees and soil? Weather and climate? The seasons? Water? Fire? What do they know about themselves in relation to all these things, in this place called home?

Well, finally, on April 25, 2007, Candy Blesse’s dream was realized. She entreated another fifth grade teacher, Kathy Echols, to join in the program she developed with the aid of U.C. Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station staff. Jeff Brown, manager of the station, welcomed the two classes, one from Truckee, the other from Glenshire, and introduced a brief history of Sagehen and rules of the facility. Then, four groups of students were directed to four stations. The first station, ‘group challenges,’ lead by Katie Old and Shauna Correll – Truckee Elementary teachers and experienced outdoor education instructors – played outdoor games to initiate bonding between students. Station 2 involved mapping, led by Jeff Brown, with a compass activity. Station 3 dealt with Forest ecology, guided by Jan Ellis and other employees of SWEP (Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships), and engaged students in a forest scavenger hunt. Lastly, ‘bug man’ Ryan Hill, graduate student at U.C. Berkeley, like a pied piper led a group towards a meadow to find and collect insects. Students were running and looking and finding and learning – Sagehen was buzzing with high-powered activity.


And this is only the beginning! Blesse has reserved an overnight trip in June and in the fall numerous fifth grade classes from Truckee Elementary and Glenshire will participate in a two-night stay in October. At a cost of $7 per night per student (not including food or pay for instructors), a field trip to Sagehen is an affordable (and don’t forget the savings in gas!) outdoor experience. Sagehen is well equipped with cabins, bathrooms, and a cookhouse, and provides curriculum and instructors according to teachers’ needs.

The new Sagehen program, while science-based and fulfilling many fifth grade standards, also incorporates a major literacy component. Informational texts will be issued concerning the topics presented at Sagehen: trees, insects, watershed, weather, animals, ecosystems, forest ecology, habitats, etc., The students will read the texts beforehand and then again after they’ve experienced the hands-on activities. Lastly, all students will engage in creative and research writing projects.


Previous articleStubby and Bubbles
Next articleOver Night Sensations