Exploring Refugio State Beach with PassPORTS

The Gaviota Coast is the southernmost undeveloped part of the California coastline. Within the bounds of Santa Barbara County, Refugio State beach is known for it’s towering Palms, rocky cliffs, and slow-and-easy surf break. In the fall of 2021, the new passPORTS project collaborated with local educators to create new instructional resources designed to prepare for and reflect on blended access field trips with the Refugio Symposium. The spring semester has seen this project come to fruition with over makes it possible for students and teachers to connect both virtually and in-person through “blended-access” with California State Parks all across the state. This year, despite the barriers of the pandemic, over 300 students will visit Refugio State Beach through blended access experiences.

During one such experience on January 13th, 2022, Parker Grand, California State Park Interpreter connected with Hueneme High School in Oxnard California. On this calm, crisp morning along the Gaviota Coast Parker greeted “an epic low tide with fifty students from Hueneme High School.” These students made the nearly sixty-mile trek to Refugio State Beach to have the opportunity to explore and study the unique and biologically diverse environment that surrounds the Gaviota Coast.

After deboarding the bus, students met with local Camp Host, Mary to discover the different creatures that live in the park. Mary, like many park staff, is something of an expert on the local natural, cultural and historic phenomena of the park and keeps a running record of her own biological discoveries. Parker shared, “with Mary, students had the opportunity to ask questions and interact with different props/materials including skull, bones, shells, and models.” After a preview of what they might discover during student-centered exploration, students engaged in an iNaturalist Bioblitz to observe and record their findings at the Refugio tidepools. iNaturalist is a shared initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society supported by community scientists all across the globe. In engaging with the park through this lens, students not only draw upon their own curiosity to explore the park but in doing so contribute to our greater understanding of biodiversity. Parker mentioned, “students were finding Sea stars, crabs, mussels, barnacles, and surf grass all over the low tide area.” In keeping with the theme of participant science, students had the opportunity to see how easy it is to contribute to science by recording MPA Watch Surveys.

Refugio Beach


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Refugio Shells
Refugio Tidepool

Parker shared “Refugio is a control site for several local marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Santa Barbara Channel.” Students gather data through observations on human use (boating, fishing, recreation…) and record their observations. This data helps land managers to understand what resources matter most to the public and educate the community on MPA regulations. Towards the end of the field trip, students rifled through the beach wrack to record their observations through a variety of nature journaling prompts. Parker connected with students on a personal level and in small groups during this exploration. Still excited to find new discoveries every day at Refugio State Beach, Parker excitedly shared, “The most awesome find of the day was a mermaid’s purse!”

Before departing from Refugio, students gathered together as a whole group to share their favorite moments from their visit and “shoutouts” or thanks to their friends, peers, and teachers. Prior to the field trip, Parker reflected,

–“When I realized that so many students were coming and I wouldn’t have any staff to support, I thought ‘oh no, what should I do’ but I realized that engaging students in citizen science is such an easy way to bring students into learning and exploration, during our reflection, students shared how much they loved the exploring intertidal zone and wished they had more time to! None of this would be possible without the passPORTS Program for coordinating and funding these learning experiences.” —

Parker recognized the value of engaging with Chis and MJ as active facilitators in their students’ learning experience rather than acting as a “sage on the stage” for Refugio State Beach. By adopting students and teachers as active participants in this experience, Parker was able to easily manage a large group without worrying about damaging resources or losing control.

–“Having students engage in student-centered learning involves them in the process, and connects them with the resource rather than spouting off a bunch of facts or cool things. A student came up and they were so excited because they found an egg case and they wanted to know more and were making their own observations, ‘I found this in the wrack and it’s so soft, how cool is that!’ I just thought wow, the student may have never seen this before and now they want to learn more, that’s cool. I could tell you what I think is cool about the park, but this get’s us understanding what their interests are and what they want to do, that’s why I think the passPORTS project is so impactful.”–

Lydia Stinson

Photo Credit: @mjwatergirl – MingJun Nakamura
Posted by March 2nd, 2022 By: Scott Shepherd K-12 Access Project Coordinator