Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It's Time to Garden!

It's spring time and for many people that means it is time to plant flowers. Here at Sierra Outdoor School we have five native plant gardens. With so many choices at your local hardware stores and plant nurseries, we encourage you to choose native plants when possible. We worked with our local chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and with the California Garden Foundation to get funding and plants for our gardens. If you're interested in starting a native garden at home or at your school, check in with your local CNPS chapter and stores that carry native plants. Read on to see why native plants are a good choice and to see pictures of our gardens. Happy gardening!

Why should we grow California native plants?
  •  Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil type (in your zone)
  • No fertilizers are required (mulch and compost instead)
  • Habitat and food for wildlife
  • Many are drought tolerant
  • Many aid in erosion control
  • More resistant to local fungal diseases and pests
  • Provide traditional uses (medicinally/culturally)
  • Minimum maintenance

Students finding "fun facts" about plants
Interpretive sign along with the lupine and Ceanothos
Sun tolerant natives at Juniper dorms

California wild rose
Gettysburg students helped plant on Earth Day 2009

    Why should we grow native California plants at home and/or school?

  • Low maintenance
  • Aesthetics (they're beautiful)
  • Education tool for social studies, science, math and English
  •  Provides a hands-on environment for students
  • Decreases the spread of invasive plants
  • Creates a sense of place unique to your area

Friday, March 13, 2015

What's in a Nature Name?

We are so excited to announce the launch of our new website! We would love it if you took a minute to check it out!

In navigating our wonderful new website, some of you may have noticed we have two names in our staff bibliographies. And we are not just talking about first and last names! Here at Sierra Outdoor School, some school groups choose to attend a class called Talk About Trees, where students learn the important uses of trees and their physiology. Then students receive a tree cookie necklace where they write their given name on one side, and a nature name on the other!

Let's take a look at how our staff got their nature names!


Maggie (Monarch): My "Nature Name" was given to me by another Naturalist "Half-dome" years ago when we first began using them. Half-dome was referring to the Monarch Butterfly when adorning me with this special name.

Ed (Squirrel): I was given my nature name when I was in college because I wasn't able to sit still, ever. I always had to be doing something, like a squirrel collecting acorns.

Traci (Beetle): Named after her childhood idol from the Hollywood blockbuster film Beetlejuice. Just kidding :-)While she does love that movie, she chose this nature name because she felt bugs were under-represented in the nature name world even though there are three times as many insect species as all other animals species on Earth! 3/4 of all insect species are beetles and who doesn't love lady bugs?

Phil (Badger):  Need I say more?

Thomas (Otter): Similar to otters, Thomas can often be seen in or close to water. Other shared attributes include being mammals, being furry and being adorable.

Naturalist Interns:

Alicia (Acorn): Alicia received her nature name from her fellow interns during their first week at SOS, as she was pretending to be an acorn in a Silent Mile training class. She loves oak trees and appreciates acorns because of their importance as a food source for many forest animals!

Alli (Ocean):  I was given my nature name by a close friend during a trip down in Big Sur, CA.  We saw whales, sand dollars and flew kites on the beach. The ocean has always been one of my favorite environments to explore and learn about, both by foot and by boat, and it fills me with so much joy!

Britta (Aspen):  I chose the nature name Aspen because Aspen trees are my favorite type of tree! They are one of the largest living organisms on earth, have pain-relieving properties in their bark, and are especially beautiful when their leaves change in the fall!

Deanna (Doe): Because who doesn't enjoy bursting into song?! "Doe, a deer! A female deer!"  This name was actually given to me by my fellow interns but I've always had a great appreciation for this majestic animal.  During my first month of work here at SOS, I was playing my ukulele near the ditch and 3 deer walked out of the woods and onto the trail almost as if to hear me play.  I decided at that magical moment that the other interns had chosen a fitting nature name for me and that I might just be a Disney princess.

Jocelyn (Snail): Jocelyn highly admires this incredible invertebrate. Similar to snails who are found all over the world and travel with their home on their back, Jocelyn has spent a lot of her time traveling the globe with a pack on her back.

Sarah (Cricket): Sarah grew up in a house high on the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lulled to sleep each night by the music of crickets outside her window. She also loves to sing!

Tommy (Spider): Tommy's fascination with spiders (and other insects) started at a young age. His respect and admiration for the 300 million year old species lead him to the nickname of the most common arachnid.


Janelle (Bluegill): Something fishy is going on over here...the state fish of her home state, IL!

Diann (Oak Leaf): Many years ago, Diann was thrown a birthday party, and the host asked the guests to bring a plant, flower, or part of a plant that best represented her.  Her older sister brought an Oak Leaf to the party because some of the symbolism of the Oak Tree (by Celtic beliefs) means strength, endurance, generosity, wisdom, honesty, and protection.  Since then, her older sister has called her Lil' Oak Leaf as a nickname... so when Diann was asked to come up with a nature name, she didn't have to, she already had one!

Hopefully you will get a chance to get closer to nature, have wonderful experiences, and even earn a nature name. What will your nature name be?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

We are now hiring Naturalist Interns for our 2015-2016 school year!

Experiential education is not only for students that visit the Sierra Outdoor School; it is also for the Naturalist Interns that spend time here. This program acts as a training ground for those interested in the field of Outdoor Education or Interpretation. Through a combination of hands-on and guided learning experiences, interns will become better educators and naturalists. Under the guidance and supervision of our experienced permanent Naturalists and Program Coordinators, Naturalist Interns will learn a variety of classes, activities, and skills. Over the ten month internship, interns will teach science and cultural history based classes, facilitate low ropes and team building activities, as well as learn how to belay and facilitate high rope elements and a zip line. Interns receive training in all classes before they teach on their own.

Additionally, paid trainings are provided throughout the year in areas including: pedagogy and educational theory, classroom and group management, background in relevant sciences, and local natural and cultural history. Sierra Outdoor School also has a Raptor Center with five birds of prey. Interns will have the opportunity to learn non-releasable raptor management including feeding, handling, and teaching with the birds if this is an area of interest.
If you are interested in becoming one of our seven interns for the 2015-2016 school year, please apply soon!  Open until filled.  Internship Commitment: August 9, 2015- June 11, 2016.  For more information on the internship position and for details on how to apply, please visit our website at:


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New classrooms ready for the Spring!

Meet the Barn!

As part of Clovis Unified School District’s Bond Measure “A”, Sierra Outdoor School has been undergoing campus wide renovations and this month construction bears fruit. Sierra Outdoor School staff are excited to announce the opening of the new science building “The Barn”. This building is on the site of the old barn classroom.  Conveniently located near the pond, the raptor center and many challenge elements, it provides a great addition to our program. The building provides a modern lab space to support our field science and lab classes including Pond Life and Owl Pellets. The building also includes indoor space for rainy days and a large classroom perfect for large group activities.

 The front of the Barn

One of three new lab rooms.   This one is set up with equipment for our Pond Life class

 One new feature of Barn is a large covered patio perfect for class a rainy day
or for shade on a hot spring day

  The covered patio overlooks the pond 

Campus wide renovations will continue for the next year with improvements to both infrastructure and buildings.  We look forward to these improvements which will help modernize our campus and make our program more effective.  So pardon the dust as this work continues.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Save the Date!

Friday, 2/27/15

SOS is launching its brand new, completely updated website!  With the help of CUSD's Technology Department, we have created a website that should be easier to navigate and provide more of the information that you are looking for about our school.  It's even complete with a Students' Space.
In the meantime, you can continue to use our current website for information at  You can also like us on Facebook,, as a way to follow all of the current action here at SOS.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What's Going Down at SOS? ... Our Energy Consumption!

Did you know… the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but consumes 19% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as approximately 2 Japanese, 31 Indians, or 307 Tanzanians.

As we fight to slow climate change, our daily choices regarding energy use can make a big difference. In California, about 44% of the total energy consumed is by appliances, electronics, and lighting. Luckily, this is something we have a lot of control over!

Here at SOS we reduce our energy consumption not only through our Pig Post program (see our December blog post), but also with a weekly energy competition! Wireless energy monitors located in each dorm record both real-time and cumulative energy use each day. Each monitor is surrounded by a poster explaining how the monitor works and why it is important. Read below!

Students learn about the competition upon their arrival and begin participating the first moment they step into their dorm. SOS staff then record data daily to compare between dorms and announce the results during lunch. The competition motivates students to be more conscious of habits like turning off the lights, closing windows and doors while heat or A/C is running, and unplugging camera/phone chargers. We hope that students will take these practices back to their homes and families! 

Who or what has influenced your household energy habits? 

For more information about household energy consumption in California, check out the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) website:

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Winged Ambassador for SOS Raptor Center!

Great News! SOS has an addition to its Raptor Center. Our newest bird is a female Western Screech Owl (WSO).

She has been at SOS for over 200 days now, and a lot of training has been done to get her ready to be seen by kids. She has gotten used to her new home (mew), learned to tolerate her handler, learned to step up on the glove and back to the perch, and learned to be outside on the glove. The next step is for her to be seen by her first class. If all goes well, we are hoping that she will be viewed outside by schools in January. Below are a few pictures of her in her mew and outside with the different perches.

The WSO tethered in her mew. Tethering provides a safe environment for her and trainer while she learns to be in a new home. 

Two of the perches built specifically for a raptor her size. 

Another perch. 

Learning how to be perched outside. 

Maybe the WSO's first time seeing snow. 

WSO with a piece of food to reinforce good behaviors. 

Check out the Sierra Outdoor School Facebook page later for updates on the WSO's progress.