Teaching the Next Generation of Naturalists

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy, a non-profit environmental organization based in Huntington Beach, has been providing leading environmental education throughout L.A. and Orange counties since its beginnings in 1990. The Conservancy offers a myriad of both on- and off-site programs for all ages, all of which are aligned with current California State Standards and the new Next Generation Science Standards for each grade level. Programs are designed to work with the unique resources we have here at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, and integrate learning with creative hands-on and immersive activities to engage students in participation. Some of the shining successes of these efforts are our summer programs; the Summer Wetland Explorers Program (SWEP) and the Youth Leadership in Environmental Action Program (YLEAP).


During the month of July, students in grades K-12 can come to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and embark on a journey of scientific adventure as they travel beyond the classroom to explore the local, native wilderness. Students in the Junior Summer Wetland Explorers Program, geared toward children in grades K-3, learn about habitats, wetlands, watersheds, ecosystem components, food webs, and recycling through guided hikes of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, hands-on science labs, STEM-based activities and crafts, and supplemental education videos. Every day brings new discoveries on the trail, and Junior Wetland Explorers will record all their findings in their wetland science journal. During the Senior Summer Wetland Explorers Program, geared for students in grades 4-7,  students unearth the secrets of wetlands, watersheds, coastal ecology, food webs, geology, and pollution solutions, all supplemented by guided hikes, video lessons, and hands-on lab activities and crafts.


The Youth Leadership in Environmental Action Program aims to educate students in grades 8-12 about the wonders and ecology of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and the surrounding ecosystems. This program also broadens the scope to the wonders of southern California, and now includes lessons and activities aimed at teaching skills of interpretation. After completing the 4-day orientation at the end of July, participants are required to complete a minimum of 30 hours of volunteer service with the Conservancy in the year following their orientation. During this volunteer service, students will have the opportunity to shadow Conservancy staff and employ the interpretation skills learned during the program to help educate volunteers on natural sciences and the importance of California’s unique ecosystems, particularly the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.


To date, the Conservancy’s summer programs have engaged approximately 300 young naturalists, some of which have gone on to pursue degrees and careers in the natural sciences and education. The Conservancy is committed to educating the next generation of naturalists and stewards of our natural resources and systems, and the summer programs certainly contribute to that!


Parents interested in enrolling their children in the Summer Wetland Explorer Program can visit https://bolsachica.org/programs/learn/summer-program/ to learn more! Parents and students interested in YLEAP can visit https://bolsachica.org/programs/learn/yleap/ to learn more about the program and application!


Photo credits belong to the Bolsa Chica Conservancy.