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Environmental academy plant project: Hands-on science
Emily James was a student in the Colusa High School's Environmental Science Academy — graduating from the school in 2005.
On Friday, she was out at Davis Ranch helping the latest group of seniors with a project to plant a variety of native plants, bushes and trees along Highway 45.
It is part of a passion she developed while in Craig Richards' class.
"I liked science and math in high school, but I went to a liberal arts college and have an arts degree. But when I came home, I fell in love with agriculture," James said.
She said the work she is doing at Davis Ranch is just an extension of that passion.
Ernesto Mendez admits he probably has more interest in environmental science than he did when he started at the three-year academy.
And while he is not committed to a career path in that direction, he said he definitely has a better understanding and appreciation for the agricultural community.
"It is interesting," Mendez said.
Aimee Maldonado called Friday's task of planting a mile-long stretch along the highway "hard work."
She is not certain what she wants to do in the future, but said being part of the academy has already had an impact on her life.
For one thing, she said, she is more environmentally conscious, and is more dedicated to such things as recycling.
The academy actually operates the recycling program at the high school, a program that started as an academy project.
The latest project is part of an effort to restore riparian and native habitat to the region in cooperation with farming and ranching interests.
In this case, the native species being planted along Highway 45 should actually prove to be beneficial to the tomato crop that will be in the adjacent field.
"We only do projects that are compatible; and there are studies that show if you have native pollinators, even though tomatoes are self-pollinating, they will get bigger and better fruit," said Valerie Calegarie, who works with Audubon California, a major player in the Davis Ranch project.
Academy students have also worked on an ambitious project that will connect the habitat along Sacramento River some four or five miles to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, using waterways that run through Davis Ranch.
And despite being Colusa High students, they have worked on a variety of projects all around the county.
Currently there are 120 students, roughly a third of all students. They apply as freshmen, and those accepted then begin the three-year journey of practical, hands-on science.
"I am a science teacher, but I was a fish biologist before that," said Richards, explaining his own commitment to hands-on, out-in-the-world teaching.
He said the idea comes the Center for Land-Based Learning, a program started by Craig McNamara.
The idea is to develop a science curriculum that connects students directly to the land. Grants from various sources help fund the projects.
The students' involvement in this project, however, is as volunteer labor. It serves the academic goals of the academy, and benefits the project.
Calegarie said none of the projects take any land out of production, and the choice of plants — including the controversial elderberry bush — are approved by the farmers and ranchers.