Students Explore New Ways to Connect with Nature

students sit in a circle in the grass amid blue oaks to begin nature solo at the Save Mount Diablo Big Bend property in the Marsh Creek watershed

De La Salle High School students team up with Save Mount Diablo to learn about nature while staying safe during the pandemic

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA—De La Salle High School students, eager to get outdoors, leapt at the chance to be part of Save Mount Diablo’s newly revised, hands-on Conservation Collaboration Agreement program designed  to connect young people to nature while keeping them safe during the pandemic. “Students are geniuses at adapting,” said Ted Clement, Executive Director of Save Mount Diablo (SMD). “When we had to change the way we deliver our experiential Conservation Collaboration Agreement (CCA) education program, they and their teachers took up the challenge and are making it work.”

De La Salle High School is not new to the CCA program. An earlier class took part in 2018, when the program’s traditional three-part format was in place. Then, students learned basic information during classroom presentations by SMD staff and, on a separate day in the field, completed a hands-on stewardship project along with a hike, a presentation by an environmental educator, and a solo journaling experience. The impact was powerful: Students’ knowledge and intentions to spend more time outdoors skyrocketed.

Now SMD has moved presentations to a Zoom platform, and outdoors activities take place with social distancing and masks. Plus, students can opt for self-directed outdoors projects under the guidance of SMD and their teacher instead of gathering with their classmates. The question is: Will the new format be as effective?

So far, yes. This year’s class—a total of 54 Honors Biology students—is jumping right in to the new CCA format. After two initial Zoom presentations, the class spent a day outdoors—a group of 21 completed a restoration project on Save Mount Diablo’s Big Bend property, and 33 created their own hands-on nature service projects. Save Mount Diablo gave these 33 students a list of project ideas, such as creating art from trash, cleaning up their neighborhoods, planting native plants in their gardens, removing invasive weeds with landowners’ permission, and reducing energy usage in their homes.

two students planting a native shrub at the Save Mount Diablo Big Bend property in the Marsh Creek watershed

Wearing masks and distancing themselves socially, the group of 21 worked hard to restore habitat at Save Mount Diablo’s Big Bend property, planting yarrow, coyote bush, Pacific blackberry, and California rose. They also potted up blue oak acorns for planting next year. The 33 students who completed the program as an independent study project will report on their experience in the class’s upcoming, and final, Zoom meetings today and tomorrow.

“On Saturday, November 14th, 2020, I was fortunate to take 21 of my Honors Biology students on a field trip to work on a Conservation Collaboration Agreement with Save Mount Diablo. This is my second year doing a CCA and it was a wonderful experience. I’m currently teaching remotely, so this was the first time for me to see my students in person. As always, it was so nice to be out in nature, but more so now because of the pandemic. Many students are feeling isolated being home in front of the computer all day long for virtual meetings. I’ve been encouraging them to go out for hikes and to get some fresh air, but it was nice to have the experience together. My favorite part of the day was the solo in nature. I watched eagerly as 10 of my students walked up the oak-covered hillside and selected a tree to sit by. They reflected on their prompts about nature, as did I. In this busy time where all the days seem to drag together, day after day, it was a meaningful experience to sit and slow down. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity with my students and the Save Mount Diablo staff,”  stated Henriette Howett, De La Salle High School Honors Biology Teacher.

This enthusiasm is important because youth today, “spend less time outside than prison inmates, with the average child playing freely outside for just four to seven minutes a day,” according to a 2017 report commissioned by REI Co-op, The Path Ahead. This report notes that the average American now spends about 95 percent of their life indoors. It further reports that we are becoming an “indoor species,” which comes with consequences: “Our health and well-being may suffer. And the less we value our outdoor spaces, the less likely we are to protect them.”

students assist Save Mount Diablo Land Stewardship Manager Roxana Lucero gather mulch for native planting project

Clement considers De La Salle one of the CCA program’s benchmark participants. “It’s clear that De La Salle students embrace new challenges, and their teachers support them every step of the way,” he noted. “Having this group use our new CCA format, so we can continue to connect kids to nature during the pandemic, is a privilege and will pave the way for other classes to be successful.” He continued, “Save Mount Diablo thanks De La Salle High School for its commitment to getting young people connected to the beautiful Mount Diablo natural areas through our Conservation Collaboration Agreement program. This type of leadership is directly addressing the disturbing trend of ‘nature deficit disorder’ in our modern culture.”

In the final portion of the CCA program, designed to engage students in educational and participatory philanthropy, the class will work to raise funds to become members of SMD through SMD’s discounted youth membership program.


Save Mount Diablo

SMD is a nationally accredited, nonprofit land trust founded in 1971 with a mission to preserve Mount Diablo’s peaks, surrounding foothills, and watersheds through land acquisition and preservation strategies designed to protect the mountain’s natural beauty, biological diversity, and historic and agricultural heritage; enhance our area’s quality of life; and provide recreational opportunities consistent with the protection of natural resources. Learn more at

De La Salle High School

De La Salle High School is a private Roman Catholic school for boys in Concord, California. The school was founded in 1965. De La Salle currently enrolls 1,039 students, and roughly 99 percent of each graduating class goes on to attend a university or college. Learn more at

High resolution images, videos, environmental service project list, the executed Conservation Collaboration Agreement, and press release files:

Captions and image credits:

  1. De La Salle students gather with Save Mount Diablo Executive Director Ted Clement at SMD’s Big Bend property east of Clayton to prepare for their solo experiences in nature. Credit: Al Johnson.
  2. Two De La Salle students breaking ground to plant some native coyote brush as part of restoring Save Mount Diablo’s Big Bend property during an environmental service project. Credit: Al Johnson.
  3. Save Mount Diablo Land Stewardship Manager Roxana Lucero pulls mulch out of a wheelbarrow as De La Salle students and Honors Biology Teacher Henriette Howett prepare to rake it around a newly planted native coyote brush shrub. Credit: Al Johnson.
  4. Two De La Salle students planting some native coyote brush on November 14 at Save Mount Diablo’s Big Bend property in the Marsh Creek watershed. Credit: Al Johnson.
  5. A De La Salle student contemplating nature amid a forest of blue oak trees during the solo part of the field experience. Credit: Al Johnson.
  6. De La Salle students work with Save Mount Diablo Land Stewardship Manager Roxana Lucero to gather mulch for native planting sites. Credit: Al Johnson.
  7. For other photos, please credit photographer in image file name. For video files, please credit Floyd McCluhan.



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