PORTS Inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards

The sun bears down on La Purisima Mission on the Central Coast of California…

A 9-year-old boy and his father stomp and squish bare feet through soil, manure, and dried hay, creating a traditional building material called “adobe.” After hours of back-breaking work that left his hands, feet, and face caked with dried adobe, the boy is aware of his sweat soaking through his homespun shirt and rough trousers. Turning to his equally exhausted father, he wonders about jumping into the cool water of the fountain. Within moments he is exhilarated, sloshing through the chilly clear water.

What might sound like something from the 1800’s-era California is the memory of Parker, California State Park Interpreter, or informal educator, for the PORTS (Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students) Program at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park and at Gaviota State Beach. At age nine he became a junior docent and began a lifelong passion for historic resources.

“My parents would often say, ‘Don’t ask Parker about the missions because you’ll never get him to stop talking!” — Parker Grand

“My parents would often say, ‘Don’t ask Parker about the missions because you’ll never get him to stop talking!” Parker reflects with laughter.

After 10 years of volunteering, during a docent training in Santa Barbara, Parker discovered that his great-great-great-great-grandfather was born at La Purisima Mission in 1816.

“Finding that out almost a decade after I’ve had this total inspiration to connect to this mission and this place is really amazing,” Parker says. When you ask him about his work, Parker’s passion is immediately evident.“It means a lot to me to be in a place that I’ve loved for so long and to be able to interpret that for visitors and students,” Parker explains.

Today, through PORTS, Parker connects K12 students to virtual field trips to La Purisima Mission State Park. PORTS empowers K12 communities to connect with the California State Parks through PORTS Home Learning and PORTS On-Demand Programs. In 2003, PORTS began connecting teachers and students in their classrooms to parks through educational video-conferencing programs. Seventeen years later, PORTS calls to question, how can we empower young people to connect with parks in a year like 2020 the way Parker did as a child?

Adobe Parker

Making Adobe Bricks at La Purisima Mission State Park

LPM Fountain

Taking a dip!

PORTS Classroom

Parker in uniform connecting K12 students to La Purisima Mission State Park.

For PORTS interpreter Nikki Kohls, personal connection is key…

For PORTS interpreter Nikki Kohls, personal connection is key. At Van Damme State Beach, Nikki finds a thank-you email from a parent with a request for a birthday card for his daughter, Molly, who enjoys Nikki’s PORTS Programs from home. Before packing up, Nikki sends a quick email wishing Molly a happy birthday. Within moments, Molly’s dad writes back ecstatic with excitement, “You are amazing! I can’t thank you enough!”

A few days later, Molly pops up in Nikki’s inbox. Sporting a wide grin in her video message, Molly says, “Thank you so much for the postcard and the video!” Proudly displaying her birthday present, Molly exclaimed, “This is my Ranger Nikki doll! I love your programs so much!”

Memories from this pandemic will be long-lasting, especially for children and young people. What might seem a simple personal connection may, in fact, inspire a lifelong passion for California State Parks. A passion that may shape the futures of students like Molly to share California State Park resources, as Nikki does today. These authentic connections become more relevant with each passing day of the pandemic and PORTS continues to create spaces to play, learn, serve, and share in our California State Parks with K-12 Communities.

The demand for hybrid capable programs like PORTS is growing. This past fall showed record numbers of engagement with the program receiving more than 2,700 On-Demand Program requests since September and counting.

CUE (Computer Using Educators) is proud to have a long history of partnership with the California Parks System and PORTS specifically. With our new passPORTS program, teachers are able to take advantage of the opportunity to re-imagine the school field trip, to connect with CA State Parks, and create relationships with Park Interpreters virtually while preparing for the moment at which the in person field trip will be possible. Interpreters like Parker and Nikki are looking forward to more letters like Molly’s with each student they connect with.

Yoga in Nature with Nikki Kohls

Interpreter Nikki Kohls striking pose while a leading Junior Bear Yoga in Mendocino!

Thank You From Molly
Molly posing with her Ranger Nikki doll!