Green Meadows expands learning possibilities with Internet access

John Muir once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

This connectedness is apparent throughout the Sierra Nevada, with its lush forests, flowing rivers and starry nights. And if you ask adults in Merced County what their earliest experiences with nature were, chances are you would hear several stories about the week they spent at Camp Green Meadows.

A weeklong residential outdoor science and environmental education program for fifth- and sixth-grade students from schools throughout Central California, Camp Green Meadows is located near Yosemite National Park’s Wawona entrance. The outdoor school focuses on environmental science, ecology, history, leadership and other skills to help these young students become young adults.

The Merced County Office of Education has operated Green Meadows for the past 50 years. MCOE is in the process of updating the facilities and remodeling the cabins. Green Meadows sits in the Sierra National Forest on land leased from the U.S. Forest Service.

Nearly 90 percent of the 3,500 students who attend the camp annually have never been camping in a forest overnight. Even more astounding: 80 percent of the students have never set foot in a forest.

I assume the U.S. Forest Service would be interested in more citizens learning about the national forests, but when Sierra Telephone requested a permit to bring broadband Internet to the camp, we were confronted with a bureaucratic hurdle that dragged on for several years. After experiencing a high level of frustration with the Forest Service, I contacted Rep. Jim Costa for help.

Costa personally met with the local Forest Service director and his assistants to work out a plan to secure the permit to install 1,500 feet of underground cable.

Again, months went by and no action was taken. Costa contacted the forest officials in Washington, D.C., and finally the ball started rolling.

Nearly a year after the congressman met with forest officials, the permit was finally issued.

I am a huge proponent of protecting our national parks and forests, however the Forest Service should be looking for quicker solutions to problems so citizens can enjoy and learn from our national forests.

Green Meadows Outdoor School will soon have high-speed Internet access that will allow the school to support a range of new and exciting technologies that will enhance on-site learning and provide access to the school through virtual field trips, remote data sensors, school site media collections, an on-site weather station and more.

For instance, the improved Web connectivity will allow data collected by the weather station to be analyzed and used to gain a better understanding of weather patterns in the Sierra Nevada by students throughout the country and world.

I am grateful we have a congressman who sees the value of hands-on environmental education and is willing to expend the effort necessary to help us bring 21st century learning to Camp Green Meadows.

Steven E. Gomes, Ed.D., is superintendent of schools for the Merced County Office of Education.