The Outdoor Science Education Program at the Valentine Eastern Sierra Reserve (VESR) in Mammoth Lakes is designed to provide the elementary and middle schools in Inyo and Mono counties with meaningful, hands-on science education and enrichment. Schools in this isolated, sparsely populated portion of the state travel up to 90 miles to participate in these workshops.
OSEP programs take place at both VESR sites — the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory and Valentine Camp — as well as in the local schools with two primary components. The field trip component is the largest part of the program, hosting approximately 2,000 students per year from twelve schools in six different school districts. Field trips feature a two- to three-hour, hands-on, age-appropriate lesson that has been carefully aligned with regional school curricula. Some typical lessons present ant ecology with ant tracking and food-preference experiments; aquatic invertebrate identification and classification; introduction to forest mammals (with skulls and furs); and conifer identification and forest fire ecology.
Many lessons include simulation games with graphing and data analysis. The instructors for the program are VESR Education Coordinator Carole Lester and Annie Barrett who both have extensive classroom and environmental education esperience. The schools provide transportation to and from the reserve, supervising teachers, and chaperones. This part of the program is offered through the generous support of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.
VESR also offers a summer school program: one and two-week summer classes for up to 120 students (ten students per class) in grades one through nine. Younger students study habitats, insects, bats, or trees, while the older students may study life skills of early man, natural history, forest ecology, or art in nature. The program employs up to nine teachers with a wide variety of specialties and is fully subscribed each year. The instructors in this program include classroom teachers, graduate students, and biologists with government agencies. A trained volunteer docent assists each teacher. Many students have taken every class offered and are now serving as teaching assistants in the program. Several alumni of the program are now enrolled in universities as biology majors; two alumni have received teaching credentials and returned as instructors in the program. This part of the program is self-supporting through fees charged to the students.