Sixth Grade Field Trip to Matilija Dam

At Oak Grove School the Arts of Living and Learning are ingrained in our culture, curriculum, classroom practice, and expectations of student learning. And one of the key elements of the Arts of Living and Learning is our relationship to the environment.

We understand that if we empower our students to develop a strong relationship with nature, they will come to understand their responsibility to the environment. They will learn to love nature and intrinsically want to protect our planet through active stewardship and responsibility for the environment.

One of the many ways in which this philosophy is embedded in our curriculum is a 6th grade project in which our students learn about the watershed in which they live.

Visiting the Dam

As part of this project, our 6th grade students embarked on a field trip to Matilija Dam, hosted by Once Upon a Watershed (OUW) Program Director David White and Educator and OGS alumni parent Sara MacCracken. OUW engages youth to enrich their understanding of their water source and the importance of protecting and enhancing its health through direct restorative action. Its mission is to cultivate a sense of shared responsibility for our whole earth system, instilling confidence and hope by empowering the next generation to make a tangible difference at their local watershed scale.

“The culminating piece is for them to understand the specific watershed they live in, the Ventura River, and all the things that impact its flow.”

Our Middle School Science Teacher and Service Learning Coordinator Meredith Thomas says our 6th grade students learn about the atmosphere, water, and the cycles that happen on earth and how everything is connected. “The culminating piece is for them to understand the specific watershed they live in, the Ventura River, and all the things that impact its flow,” she explains.

Endangered Indicator Species

Students also learn about the critically endangered indicator species, the Southern Steelhead Trout, and the effects of the Matilija Dam. Meredith adds: “David and Sara came to the 6th grade classroom and shared a presentation with our students about the Steelhead’s migration patterns and need for a free-flowing river in order to be able to get to their spawning grounds and migrate to the ocean. And the big piece here is the impact of the Matilija Dam.”

The Matilija Dam, originally constructed in 1947, has outlived its usefulness. Since construction it has filled with approximately 8 million cubic yards of sediment, and the condition of the dam itself has deteriorated so it no longer serves the purpose of providing water supply and flood protection to the community.

The 6th grade students then went on their field trip to visit the creek and the Matilija Dam, where they learned more about its removal project, about sediment transportation from mountains to beaches, all of which reinforces the connection that healthy rivers create healthy beaches.

“The students got to understand the importance of the sediment behind the Matilija Dam and its impact on our beaches. The sediment that is stuck behind the dam should naturally go and fill the beaches in Ventura, which are being eroded by big storms, king tides, and sea level changes due to climate change. But the dam is preventing this from happening.”

The Future of Matilija Dam

Meredith adds that after their field trip, each student wrote a letter to the current District One Supervisor about what they see as the future of Matilija Dam. “They wrote about their experience of visiting the dam, what they saw and noticed, and what they feel should be done with it,” she says.

“Many students want the dam to be removed to see the Steelhead Trout be able to return to its spawning grounds. But they also want to see a regeneration of the area, which is a 400-acre site owned by Ventura County that is currently closed off due to the dam. Students made drawings of what that area could look like as a recreational area that people can visit and enjoy.”

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