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Virtual Camp KEEP makes its debut offering live science lessons, virtual field trips for Kern County students

Kern County Superintendent of Schools

The Kern Environmental Education Program — better known as Camp KEEP — has been a rite of passage for Kern’s 5th and 6th grade students for more than 50 years. In a normal year, more than 7,000 students take week-long field trips with their classmates to one of two residential science schools on California’s central coast, run by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Camp KEEP has developed a way to support outdoor education remotely and recently debuted Virtual Camp KEEP.

The virtual experience mirrors the traditional KEEP experience to the extent possible. Five complete days of curriculum, which classroom teachers can cover at their own pace, includes live science lessons from KEEP naturalists. The lessons are based on using scientific tools to make observations about nature treasures, learning how and why scientists use journaling, and practicing these skills together. Pre-recorded virtual “hikes” and science lesson support for classroom teachers are also part of the program.

Sixty-five elementary schools from 27 Kern County school districts have signed up to participate in the program, which represents more than 8,000 students.

Normally, students hit the hiking trails to learn about the environment around them and make memories that last a lifetime. They share the enriching experience of living in cabins together, eating community meals, playing science games by starlight, singing songs around a campfire and falling asleep to the sounds of nature.

“It breaks my heart that many students will miss out on the traditional KEEP experience this year,” said Elizabeth Roberts, principal of KEEP’s Ocean campus. “We just couldn’t imagine letting an entire year pass by without giving students a chance to participate in some way.”

Centennial Elementary School in the Rosedale School District was the first school to participate in the virtual experience. Sixth grade teacher Katie Daines said the school went “all in” with their virtual KEEP experience.

“Some kids slept in tents in their backyards. Some students slept in bedroom forts. Some slept in sleeping bags,” Daines said. “I even had students make their own face paint!”

Thanks to a sponsorship from the KEEP Foundation, students receive a KEEP Science Adventure Kit that includes a science journal and tools so they may complete hands-on, science activities in their own yards or other outdoor spaces. A wooden name tag necklace is also included, which students can decorate with their real name and their “nature name,” an exercise that is a traditional favorite at KEEP. A nightly pre-recorded campfire program is also part of the remote experience.

“Camp KEEP is not easily replicated in an online, virtual world. But the naturalists did their very best to make this week fun and educational for the kids,” Daines added. We had whole class discussions and had small groups of students meet in breakout rooms to collaborate with each other about science topics and journaling. I was very impressed.”

KEEP Science Adventure Kit sponsorship opportunities are available.

For more information about Camp KEEP, please visit http://www.campkeep.org.