When our 10-year-old son, James, came home from school in January and told us he had been invited to compete in the Nature Bowl, I didn’t know what to make of the opportunity at first. I knew the Nature Bowl was a science competition, but I didn’t know what the experience would entail.
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I initially and somewhat cynically joked with my wife that the Nature Bowl was some sort of ploy to unduly influence our budding youth to buy a Toyota Prius when the time came from them to a purchase a car.
We quickly learned that the Nature Bowl is a unique program that promotes science and conservation literacy among third to sixth grade students. The students compete in teams representing their respective schools. This year marks the 29th annual competition that is sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Each team competes in activities, relays, nature investigations and question-and-answer sessions that focus on local and regional environments. Each team also prepares an “Enviro-Mercial,” a short skit, jingle or commercial about a hot environmental topic or issue. Many of the students practice with their coaches for months.
In March, 14 schools in El Dorado County competed in the Nature Bowl semifinals in Coloma, with more than 150 student and teacher participants involved at the competition hosted by the American River Conservancy. James, a fourth grader, is a member of the Lake Forest Elementary School team from El Dorado Hills, and the Lake Forest team won the event at their third and fourth grade age level to advance to the finals at Sacramento State University on May 18.
Lake Forest has traditionally enjoyed strong Nature Bowl teams due to the efforts of educators such as Lynn Howard, James’ teacher this year who first introduced Lake Forest to the competition about a decade ago, and this year’s Lake Forest coach, Marlaine Reilly.
“It doesn’t matter where (students) are on the academic scale, each student takes away from the experience more than a colossal amount of knowledge on nature and the environment,” said Reilly, who has coached the Lake Forest team on three occasions.
“They take with them understanding of how to be a team player, and their speaking skills begin to bud here as well. Some even realize leadership roles… It’s not the competition that is important here, but the knowledge and lifetime skills they take with them from the experience,” she said.
For students such as James’ classmate, 10-year-old Joshua Medina, the Nature Bowl experience has provided extensive knowledge.
“I can name native, exclusive and introduced species. I have learned about succession, conservation, honeybees, landfills and habitats,” said Medina. “I have built on my reputation for learning and sharing information. I love that I have expanded my knowledge and ability through a more sophisticated education.”
James agrees that being part of the Nature Bowl has stretched him academically, as his team meets several days a week outside of school hours to practice and test their knowledge.
“I have learned about everything from landfills to water and air pollution,” said James. “But what I like the most about Nature Bowl is that it is super fun. You get to make new friends while learning more about nature and conservation.”
And who wouldn’t like that?
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.