Coastal Classroom: Students Study Marine Science, History and Ohlone Culture

On a trail below the highway bridge connecting Pescadero State Beach to the nearby marsh, students huddle together and listen quietly to a story about the lives of the Ohlone people – early inhabitants of the area. While people frequently learn history through museum visits and reading, this group of Mount Madonna School (MMS) third and fourth graders was in nature’s classroom, spending two days along the north coast learning about marine science, coastal ecology, and local history.

After the story students hiked into the marsh, where, amid ice plant, milk vetch, and sprawling blackberry vines, they sat along a dirt path, reflecting and writing in their journals as they imagined themselves living the way the Ohlones did long ago. Later, hiking deeper into the marsh, students came upon a sprawling Eucalyptus tree where they relaxed and listened to another story.

“Wow, Ohlone people!” comments third grader Addy Catterall-Pendleton. “To think how they lived without all the comforts of today, and how much work it would be for a boy my age.”

“I liked the big [eucalyptus] tree,” says fourth grader Sammy Caudill. “It had tons and tons of branches.” Classmate Kahlan Tervalon agrees: “”It was fun on that big, old, good climbing tree.”

“We had a fabulous trip with perfect weather,” says Linda Pope, MMS fourth grade teacher. “Our program was led by the amazing Kim Powell of Blue Water Ventures. At Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, and the adjacent beach, she guided us through several activities, including discussing Ohlone life, and creating creatures on the beach and explaining their habitats and adaptations.”

“The kids were really engaged with the habitat creation activity,” notes parent chaperone Tina Pendleton. “Divided into small groups, they worked together cooperatively to create habitats that included the ocean, beach and a marsh using found objects.”

“Our group made a decorator crab,” shares fourth graders Kira Kaplan and Violet Forbes. “We used lots of shells and seaweed,” adds Forbes.

The students, teachers and the accompanying parent chaperones stayed overnight at the historic Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel near Half Moon Bay. They enjoyed their accommodations, and everyone pitched in to help with preparing and cleaning up meals, rooms and common areas.

A side trip to the beach below the lighthouse provided some relaxation time and fun tide pool explorations.

“I liked tide-pooling because we found four starfish,” shares third grader Sofia Brevis, “including a big one that was orange and small one that was pinkish-red.”

“The hermit crabs were fun to catch and look at too,” adds classmate Summer Howley.

“The lighthouse was a fun place to be at night because it was lit up,” Tervalon says. During the evening, Powell introduced to the students to a ‘special guest,’ transforming into alter-ego “Aunt Betty Bones.”

“The kids were completely enthralled,” Pendleton recalls. “Aunt Betty, with her wild clothes and crazy antics, entertained them with stories of fossils and bones.”

Day two was spent at nearby Maverick’s Beach, where Powell gathered students into a circle and taught them about the Ohlone Medicine Wheel. Each child took turns sharing which animals they thought best fit their personality, and describing their own personal and travel ‘totems.’

Later, as part of a lesson on California ecosystems, they dug contoured holes in the sand and added ridges and peaks, creating a collaborative, geographic model of the coast. The afternoon concluded with some net fishing in the surf, and students were excited to drag it through the water and see what organisms they could catch and observe.

“The children were very cognizant of being gentle to the various life forms they netted,” notes parent chaperone Monique Smith Lee, “and immediately returned them to the water.” One highlight from their catch was a small sea slug.

“We caught lots of tiny fish and seaweed,” says third grader Denali Spector. “We also found a sea slug. It was really cool. I hadn’t seen one before, and we also saw its eggs.”

“Pulling a seine net is an ideal activity for elementary students, comments Kim Powell of Blue Water Ventures. “It’s a learning tool which is both active and educational and can engage a large group of students. There is always an element of anticipation as the net nears the beach and all eyes are eager to examine our catch. Over the years, we have caught pipefish, leopard sharks, kelp crabs and sea hares. This year, the Mount Madonna students found a species I have never encountered, a hooded nudibranch!”

Lee says she was pleased to see the level of student engagement in each of the activities they participated in, particularly when they hiked in the marsh and wrote in their journals.

“While the students were writing, there wasn’t a word spoken,” says Lee. “They were intent on documenting how they imagined their life would be as Ohlone people. Observing them in such a beautiful, peaceful and inspiring setting really emphasized the value of a trip such as this.”







































































Photo of kids using net in the ocean by Linda Pope; all other photos by Monique Smith Lee


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Media & Public Relations,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.