‘Never an age to stop learning’ | TheUnion.com

‘Never an age to stop learning’

Madelyn Rios
Tahoe Daily Tribune

It's not everyday you get to see your fourth grade teacher wielding a chainsaw in full wildland fire attire, but that's exactly what fourth grade classes at Bijou Community School experienced.

This past semester, ecology students from Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC) shared their personal experiences and knowledge of fire ecology with Bijou students as part of a community service project for "biology 149-basic principles of ecology."

This class focuses on the dynamic relationships between the living and nonliving components of natural systems and how those interdependencies are impacted by both local and global influences.

The class was asked to complete a group project that applies these concepts in a real-world setting. Because of personal experiences, the group gravitated toward an activity that brings awareness to the Santa Rosa fire this past fall, while teaching younger students the appropriate role of fire in a mountain community.

"Children are being exposed to so many of the negative impacts of fire through the news and recent events. I really wanted the kids to have an optimistic outlook on fire ecology and understand that controlled prescribed burns play a positive role in protecting our community," said Jillian Rocha-McHenry, a Lake Tahoe Community College student.

Vincent Li, another Lake Tahoe Community College student, introduced the lesson by recapping the historical and current view of fire control and forest management: "For many years humans have viewed wildfires as a negative thing. As a result, Smokey the Bear emerged in 1944 with the slogan, 'only you can prevent forest fires.' However, recent research proves that not all forest fires are bad; in fact, they actually play an important role in the ecology of an environment."

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Two students had very intimate encounters with the Santa Rosa fire, as friends and families were forced to evacuate and nearly lost, or worse, lost their homes in the catastrophic fire.

"This was one way we were able to support our community, by stimulating the discussion and exposure to the public specifically on how prescribed burns can prevent catastrophe," said Nicholas Duro, another Lake Tahoe Community College student involved in the project.

Bijou teacher Roseann Depierrri also had a personal connection to these fires. When asked if Lake Tahoe Community College students could visit her class, Depierri responded, "We just finished studying natural disasters so this would be a nice follow up. Plus I'm from Santa Rosa so I know a lot of people who were affected by this."

Rocha-McHenry, a Lake Tahoe Community College team leader, accentuated the lesson with a personal and humorous touch. She dressed up Bijou teachers in her husband's wildland firefighting gear as a way to demonstrate the importance of safety, the use of scientific equipment, and the incredible amount of gear California Conservation Corps (CCC) Fire Crews employ when called out to support disasters.

It is no surprise that South Lake Tahoe fourth graders have a comprehensive understanding of the role of fire in our area.

Visiting Lake Tahoe Community College students were able to build on this foundation by offering hands-on activities to emphasize the importance of a healthy and diverse forest stand.

The college students also took away meaningful lessons from their morning at Bijou. Many were quite impressed by the integration of technology into the classroom and most admitted they had not seen Smartboards or district-wide Chromebook access in their recent K-12 education.

Going deeper, the class reflected on their roles within the community and ecological issues at large. Lake Tahoe Community College students pondered over career choices and avenues available to pursue the childhood aspirations so apparent to them in the faces of their fourth grade audiences.

When asked if he was a college student because he didn't look the right age to be in school, Conrad Kaczmar replied, "There's never an age to stop learning."

There also is no wrong age to pick those dreams back up, and work at making them your reality.

This article was submitted by Madelyn Rios, associate adjunct at Lake Tahoe Community College.