Students Trailblaze New Pathways into Nature

Save Mount Diablo and Campolindo High School pivot to an innovative Conservation Collaboration Agreement to stay safe during the pandemic

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA—Save Mount Diablo is inventing new ways to connect young people to nature by keeping students safe as they get outdoors during the pandemic and learn together about the natural world. “Kids get it,” said Ted Clement, Executive Director of Save Mount Diablo. “They know how to adapt. So when we had to change the way we deliver our experiential Conservation Collaboration Agreement education program, they and their teachers took up the challenge and are making it work.”

Campolindo High School and Save Mount Diablo have successfully completed Conservation Collaboration Agreements (CCAs) before. In 2018 and 2019, Campolindo students took part in Save Mount Diablo’s traditional multi-day CCA program of classroom and outdoors learning experiences. Now, this year’s class of 150 AP Environmental Science students is casting a new mold shaped to the demands of social distancing and, for now, shuttered classrooms.

They have a high standard to meet: Previous classes participating in the program seriously boosted their knowledge levels and intentions to spend more time outdoors. This 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.”

Clement expressed appreciation for Campolindo High School’s willingness to innovate. “It’s not easy to be the first to try out a new format,” he noted. “But it’s clear that the special Campolindo teachers have confidence in their students and want to provide them with unique learning experiences, and the students have stepped up in kind.” He continued, “Save Mount Diablo thanks Campolindo 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.”

Each Conservation Collaboration Agreement has three basic parts, starting with an in-class presentation by SMD staff introducing students to Mount Diablo land conservation. This year, to keep students safe, SMD gave a Zoom presentation instead.

­­For the second part of the agreement, students typically spend a full day outdoors. They go on an interpretive hike led by a trained naturalist and SMD staff, complete a nature service project such as planting native grasses, hear a local ecology lesson, and conclude with a solo writing exercise reflecting on their part in nature. The Campolindo High School group was prepared to keep to this format, being careful to follow social distancing guidelines.

But nature intervened with a surprise windstorm that made outdoor time on the planned day too dangerous. Undaunted, everyone quickly pivoted to Plan B. Instead of the usual program, students were able to choose a project, do a contemplative solo, and complete both on their own in the outdoors near their homes. Save Mount Diablo provided guidelines and suggestions for projects.

“I’m blown away by the resourcefulness of these young people,” Clement remarked as students shared their experiences in a follow-up Zoom class. “Their creativity and sincerity should be an inspiration to everyone as we weather this pandemic.”

Students’ projects ranged from gathering and planting acorns, to transforming trash into art, to cleaning out the gutters on a neighborhood street. The class described their solo experiences, and some shared their journal entries. One commented, “I went up on this hill behind my neighborhood. It was completely silent. It gave me a chance to think. . . . My role in nature is to enjoy it but more importantly to protect it.” Another said, “I need to take a step forward into saving the land and saving nature. This is affecting my generation and generations after me.” A third noted, “We’re all a part of the natural world; everything around us comes from nature.”

Science teacher Tren Kauzer speaks to AP Environmental Science students at Campolindo High via Zoom

Tren Kauzer, one of the participating Campolindo High School teachers, stated, “With distance learning, students have been spending countless hours in front of screens. By partnering with Save Mount Diablo, Campolindo AP Environmental Science students had the opportunity to experience a respite from screen time, a moment to quiet their minds and recharge in nature during these stressful times. Inspired by the great work that Save Mount Diablo does, they also made their environment better through a small service project. What a wonderful opportunity to turn their passion into action, practice what they have been learning, and restore and reinvigorate both their energy and the environments close to their homes.”

Regarding this unique learning experience, Jane Kelson, participating Campolindo High School teacher, reflected, “Now, more than ever, we are exceedingly grateful to be able to collaborate with Save Mount Diablo. Although this year’s classroom presentation was via Zoom, it was very well received by our AP Environmental Science students. They have been learning about how climate disruption and habitat destruction are leading to very alarming rates of species extinction. Our students definitely connected the dots when listening to Ted and Denise talk about the goals and accomplishments of Save Mount Diablo—realizing how important SMD’s work is with regard to preserving carbon sinks and rehabilitating high-value habitat like wildlife corridors and riparian ecosystems. Although the field experience ended up being solo, due to COVID and red-flag weather warnings, the students embraced the experience and submitted some beautiful photos and thoughtful journal entries—many stating they will be taking screen breaks like that more often!”

In the final portion of the CCA program, designed to engage students in educational and participatory philanthropy, the class worked 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

Campolindo High School

Campolindo High School is a public high school located in Moraga, California, and is in the Acalanes Union High School District. In 2019, student enrollment was just over 1,400. Campolindo was ranked 30th in California by U.S. News & World Report last year.

High resolution images, the signed Conservation Collaboration Agreement, and press release files:

Image credits and captions:


Ted Clement, Executive Director, Save Mount Diablo;

T: (925) 947-3535, C: (925) 947-0642,


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