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High School Biology Classes Restore an Eco-System’s Shoreline

by Jane Califf

When Irene Creps was teaching general biology at George Washington High School in San Francisco, she wanted her students to apply what they were learning in the classroom to the real world.  She wanted to give them an opportunity to use their new knowledge to improve the environment.


 She collaborated with other biology teachers, Emil Fogarino from her school and Bill Millstone from Lincoln H.S., and together they developed a plan that, during 5 years, slowly restored an eco-system along Golden Gate Park’s shoreline with San Francisco Bay.   This area was called Crissy Field, a part of a military base called the Presidio. It had become full of invasive plants and trash. Non-native plants need to be removed because they do not provide habitat and food for native insects, birds and other animals, which can be threatened with extinction if they do not have the proper shelter and food.


The National Park Service provided these teachers and their students with much-needed help:  bus service to and from the classroom; a nursery where the students grew native plants; advice on where to plant them for maximum impact along the shore to attract native animals. Students not only learned about the value of native plants but also respect for Native Americans who discovered how to use them for food and medicine.


Native vegetation that would be planted included:


  • Western bracken, a fern that holds the sand and soil in place; Native Americans used the underground stems of these plants for food

  • Beach strawberry, a small berry-like fruit, good food for humans and animals

  • California poppy, an orange and yellow flower;  stems contain narcotic juices and were often mashed and placed in tooth cavities to soothe toothaches

  • American dune grass, keeps sand stable

  • Yellow bush lupine, shrub, larval plant of the tree lupine moth, a once federally threatened insect species

  • Sticky monkey flower, a shrub with a yellowish, orange flower;  Native Americans crushed the leaves to place on sores or burns


Their classes began by picking up trash in the area that was to be restored.  Then five times a semester, students and teachers went to the nursery and shoreline at different times to grow the plants and transplant them in Crissy Field. 


This turned out to be a five-year effort that was recorded by a TV station which publicly recognized them for their work.


Commenting on this experience, Ms. Creps said, “This project got kids out of the classroom, developed in many of them a greater respect for nature and an understanding of the importance of improving the environment. 


One student told Ms. Creps, “I’m going to come back here with my children and tell them that I helped restore Crissy Field.”

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