An unexpected opportunity arose for NatureTrack to continue helping students get the tools for learning, in this case, school meals, while they were at home to try and make for a more productive learning environment. In November, Sue Eisaguirre, founder of NatureTrack based in Los Olivos, reached out to Lompoc Unified School District to see if they could help deliver meals. The school district had just learned of families who could not pickup meals where the food was being distributed. Sue’s timing was perfect. Plus, she had an idea to include Nature Notes, activity cards for the kids to participate in an ‘extra-curricular’ way. “Nutrition with a side of nature,” Sue said, smiling. That’s what NatureTrack is set up to do – to foster a lifelong fascination with nature through outdoor field trips. Since most schools are not allowed to go on field trips now, the nature activity cards were a way to promote kids getting outdoors. The educational non-profit’s commitment to connecting kids with nature is steadfast and has been since NatureTrack was founded ten years ago. In that decade, NT has provided an outstanding 25,000 outdoor experiences for K-12 school children.
Since the schools are familiar with NatureTrack, the answer to adding a fun and educational idea to the package received a resounding yes! NatureTrack gave the kids in the families who were getting the meals, each a journal, and a new card every week with an activity to introduce them to nature. The NatureTrack deliveries ran from December 2 through 18. When asked if there was a memorable delivery, she thought for a moment. “It was the Friday before the holidays, and we delivered 60 pints of milk to one family with six children to get them through the holiday vacation.” At another home, “One little girl was so elated about our Nature Notes, she was jumping up and down with excitement.” Talk about gratification! Deliveries will start up again this Monday, January 11, and Eisaguirre said, “As long as they need us to deliver, we’ll do it.”
NatureTrack already has Virtual Field Trips and Online Resources to supplement students’ studies, encouraging them to get outdoors in their backyards or other safe locations. These videos have been screened more than 1,000 times. The public can also access these four Virtual Hikes on the NatureTrack website: Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden, Midland Trails, and Nojoqui Falls. You’ll find 17 different videos at the various locations, with nearly 50 activities related to the virtual tour keeping students, families, and individuals busy for a while. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have more than a hundred volunteers who serve as docents to the students on field trips as well as a myriad of other ways. You’ll meet Program Director Jennifer Morrell on a few of the Virtual Hikes (Nojoqui Falls), and her enthusiasm for nature is palpable.
There is never a cost to schools, students, teachers, or parents for a NatureTrack field trip. NatureTrack even covers bus transportation expenses to get students and teachers from their schools to field trip locations. When the lockdown happened in the spring, the cost of transportation for NatureTrack shot up from $5 to $60 per student. Eisaguirre had established the NatureTrack Film Festival in 2018 as an extension of and support organization to raise funds for the NT Foundation, but this year, the film fest was shut down only a week before it was set to open because of COVID. Months later, an all-virtual edition of the film festival was launched and ran for ten days instead of three in October. It was a critical success with more than 4,500 showings of 78 films with local and global audiences. Financially, the festival income was hard hit. Other ways to raise funds were sought. The Oak Group’s exhibition “The Link Between Man and Nature,” identified NatureTrack as the beneficiary to receive a sizeable portion of the sale price. “To get the Oak Group’s recognition was a validation of the work we do with K through 12 students,” said Eisaguirre. “By introducing them to nature now, we’re creating future stewards to preserve landscapes and special wildlife for the generations who follow us.”
Planning for 2021, Sue explained, “The festival will be different. A selection of the awarded and best films from the past three years with some new films to keep the material fresh and relevant will become NatureTrack Film Festival on Tour. We plan to go back to the three-day weekend format in 2022, but we’ll keep the virtual aspect to become an integral part of the festival from here forth. Using the best of both worlds to create a new domain for us.” If your school, group or organization would like to find out how to get the NTFF On Tour, please call (805) 886-2047 or e-mail: email@example.com.