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Making a Difference

When EL Civics instructor Steve Thompson began planning a unit on the environment for a class at Ventura Adult and Continuing Education, the Channel Islands came to mind.

These islands are one of the most unique and fragile ecosystems in the state of California, and a familiar sight to anyone who lives in the Ventura community. Mr. Thompson approached Channel Islands Restoration (CIR), a nonprofit environmental organization, to find a way for his students to get hands-on experience as volunteers while they were learning about the many issues that affect the islands. For the 15 students who participated, the four-day field trip to Santa Cruz Island provided Mr. Thompson’s El Civics class the opportunity of a lifetime.  

“I wanted the students to learn about a unique local environment and how it can be protected and preserved,” Mr. Thompson says. “They were able to apply the knowledge they had gained in a real-life situation to make a difference in their own community.” The project created an opportunity for personal growth through volunteer teamwork, as well as an occasion for students to practice their newly acquired English language skills in an intensive and prolonged situation.

The program, which took place in the summer of 2007, was awarded the CASAS EL Civics: Making a Difference Award in 2008 for creating an exemplary activity that resulted in a positive impact on the community.


Learning Objectives

Through the Channel Islands Restoration project, Mr. Thompson was able to meet the criteria for several EL Civics units.  

  • ELC #43.1 Government and Law–Environment: Identify environmental problems and recognize appropriate steps for resolution
  • ESL: Four days of total immersion in an English-speaking environment with emphasis on ecology
  • Personal Growth and Asset-building: Learning about the unique environment of the Channel Islands, while participating as volunteers in teams engaged in physically strenuous activity directed towards a worthwhile goal


From Classroom to Islands

The local environment project began with students using the Internet to research the history and ecology of the Channel Islands and identify volunteer opportunities. Mr. Thompson created worksheets for the students to use in formulating questions for the CIR staff. The students then collaborated to plan for the trip and acquire the necessary food and equipment. The group traveled by boat to Santa Cruz Island, observing whales and sea-lions en route, and then by four-wheel-drive vehicles to the Central Valley of the island.

Each day, the students joined a morning briefing at the University of California Santa Barbara field station where they also stayed, and then they rolled up their sleeves and worked for five to seven hours under the supervision of CIR personnel, cutting and chipping eucalyptus saplings, and clearing undergrowth to facilitate herbicide application on periwinkle. Student teams formulated strategies to get the work done most effectively, in a spirit of amicable rivalry. After work, students enjoyed trips to different parts of the island to learn more about its history and unique ecology. Evenings were spent in group discussions, sharing experiences and listening to presentations from CIR personnel.

When they returned from the island, students gave their own presentations to the rest of the class, sharing their experiences and new-found knowledge with those who were unable to participate in the hands-on work. The project culminated in an interview with the local newspaper, which Mr. Thompson had pre-arranged.

Over the course of the project, students learned how to translate armchair research into direct action. They began to communicate better with each other and with the CIR staff, and they gained a greater understanding of and appreciation for their cultural differences and similarities.

The project required not only planning and organizational skills but also physical stamina. Students learned firsthand about the value and rewards of volunteer work and how to work as a team. They became more confident individuals who helped raise awareness within their community about the fragility of the Channel Islands ecosystem.

Last year, the school was unable to offer the same field trip due to scheduling conflicts with CIR; however, the staff is hoping to run the project again in 2009.

For more information, contact Steve Thompson, Ventura Adult and Continuing Education, 805-289-7925 x 1201 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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 Published in the January 2009 issue of the CSCAE Insider.