Friday, July 20, 2012

THINK Together students gain new experiences in Claremont

Seven hundred kids flooded Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) last week, traveling to Claremont from across the county, many to take their first field trip to a garden area outside of their own backyard.

The Claremont garden teamed up with the Azusa Unified School District and summer program THINK Together to make the field trip a reality for the Title I school children, many struggling both financially and academically.

Providing these kids with hands-on experience—usually unavailable to them because of budget cuts or financial hardships—has proved to be an invaluable learning tool.

“It has given these kids a sense of belonging,” said Irene Bobadilla, quality assurance coach with THINK Together, adding. “It helps them to think outside the box when it comes to academics.”

For 18 years, THINK Together has worked to improve the test scores of under-privileged youth by providing after-school or out-of-school academic programming. In 2011-2012 alone the nonprofit came to the aid of over 100,000 students in more than 30 cities from Sacramento to San Diego. The program’s success is aided by partnering with school administrators and teachers to close achievement gaps.

The collaboration between RSAG and THINK Together began last year, and the relationship has continued to grow in popularity and number since that time. This summer the garden has welcomed more than 2,000 THINK Together students as a part of the summer outreach program.  

“It’s a great opportunity for them, and not typical to what they usually get to experience,” said THINK Together Site Coordinator Veronica Gutierrez, who has worked for the program for the past 3 years. Ms. Gutierrez got involved with the nonprofit while working toward her credential. She felt strongly about reaching out to disadvantaged children because of her own background growing up in a poor neighborhood.

“They need someone to help guide them. That’s something I can really relate to,” Ms. Gutierrez said, thankful for the partnership because she is able to provide new experiences like the botanic garden to these children.

This year that alliance goes from pedagogy to practice for the school kids as they look to put the past several weeks of summer study into practice. This summer’s session, themed “National Treasures”, focused on teaching about California’s National parks and natural habitats, culminating with a visit to RSABG to see one such environment first hand.

The already colorful gardenscape received a further burst of color as the K-6 children, donning multi-colored shirts to identify their separate groups, traipsed the trails of the native gardens with a background of commentary provided by volunteers of RSABG and THINK Together coordinators.

The towering bugs were a particular draw for the curious kids and provided an excellent launching point for discussion on the great outdoors. While the plants and landscape didn’t go unnoticed, the bugs seemed to be the center of excitement.

“I love the ladybug,” said 10-year old Maria Cabanillas, who is preparing to enter sixth grade at Valleydale Elementary School in Azusa this fall. “I like that it’s made of natural materials like wood.”

Several of Maria’s friends agreed, launching into discussion about how they have been able to use their newfound knowledge of critters and creatures at home.

“Do you want to know where black widows get their name?” asked 12-year-old Giselle Vega, a soon-to-be seventh grader at Foothill Middle School, eager to share her insight.

Giselle admitted that she didn’t used to be as eager about the study of insects or school in general and her grades took a serious dive as a result. Things began to change for Giselle when her mother enrolled her in after-school programs through THINK Together.

“I used to be horrible in Math...I used to think school was boring,” Giselle said. That was until Math Blaster and other games introducing academia to her in a new way. “Now it’s a lot of fun, and I’ve met a bunch of new friends.”

Opportunities like visiting the garden are a part of a wealth of welcome new experiences for the now eager learners.

“It’s been really great working with the garden to be able to provide learning about natural habitats not only through books, but by actually walking the routes themselves,” Ms. Bobadilla said. “We are so appreciative.”

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