Land of Extremes: Sixth-graders pilot a new program

Staff member Edgar Bernal Sevilla talks a little about the desert as the search for ocotillo begins. COURTESY PHOTO

Field trip season is coming to a close here at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, and exciting things have been happening. Two hundred and fifty sixth-graders walked through the museum doors last week, and we started our Ocotillo Propagation Program, which is set to become a new fixture in our sixth grade field trips.

Our Ocotillo Propagation Program will become the life science portion of sixth grade field trips and begins with taking students out to the wash behind the museum, where they collect clippings of ocotillos. They then bring these clippings back to the shade around the museum and cut the ocotillo clippings into eight sections. Then, they mix sand, compost and manure to create a nutrient rich soil base.

Following that, they place their ocotillo clippings into small pots, fill those pots with four inches of nutrient rich soil, then these are placed in flats that hold 16 of these ocotillo clippings.

The plan is to let these ocotillos grow for three years and then they will be relocated to areas around the museum. Following those initial three years, ocotillo begin to kick-start their growth.

The students had a lot of fun propagating ocotillo, which is really the most important part of this exercise.

One student even wrote back to us saying, “I really liked the ocotillo planting. I loved that the museum let us go through most of the steps ourselves. I can’t wait to come back, either with my school or with my parents. Thank you!”

Quotes like this are the norm rather than an outlier.

Students having fun is the most important part of the whole process, since having engaged and entertained children is the easiest way for them to retain the knowledge they are imparted. And this knowledge is important.

One of remarks that was often repeated by my coworkers piloting the Ocotillo Propagation Program is how interesting it was that these students living in an area where agriculture is vital to the economy have no clue about relatively simple things about working with plants, like the difference between dirt and soil and where seeds come from.

Slightly more advanced topics, like propagation through cuttings, more often than not drew blank stares from entire classes as the topics were introduced. While helping raise the next generation of agricultural professionals is slightly out of the museum’s scope, teaching basic propagation techniques with local plants is a beautiful way to get students in touch with the environment of the area in which they live.

And that itself is one of the main objectives of our field trip programs. Getting children in touch with nature in the land in which they grew up is vital if this nature is to be protected in the long term.

Showing them how to propagate ocotillo and knowing that some of the plants in the desert were planted by them is one way to keep students invested in the desert. And the best part is that they had a blast while doing it.

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