John Clagett, California State Park Interpreter at Angel Island has spent years working to provide access to Angel Island State Park for K-12 teachers and students. For much of that time, John’s work has focused on supporting students in the California State Parks PORTS program through providing our flagship Live, Free virtual field trip experiences from the Angel Island Detention Center. On other days, John might be found “handing out smiles” along the dock to new visitors disembarking the ferry, coordinating volunteers to engage with visitors of all ages, or guiding in-person tours through other historic buildings and landmarks. While virtual and in-person opportunities have always existed, visitors have rarely taken advantage of both opportunities to engage, until now!
Through the new passPORTS project, PORTS has partnered with Parks California and CUE to provide “blended-access experiences” making it possible for students to prepare for in-person experiences. Likened to studying art history before your visit to the museum, connecting with a PORTS program elevates students’ prior knowledge in advance of their visit and supports them to build relationships with the people and places that make up our parks. Angel Island tells the story of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a period of time that showcases the discriminatory history of our collective past. An in-person visit to the park may be impactful, but John Claggett shared the impact of blended-access opportunities, “blended-access is a deeper dive into the material. Immigration history is hard to wrap your head around and sharing this story from multiple voices over time helps re-enforce the learning, hopefully opening their mind to historic events that many people interpret as wrong.”
And teachers agree! On February 24th, 2022, Valerie Ziegler, a long-time 11th-grade teacher from Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco visited Angel Island State Park with passPORTS. Valerie has enjoyed PORTS programs from all across the state connecting with Hearst Castle, Sugar Pine Point State Park, the Tijuana Estuarine Research Reserve, Hendy Woods, and Ano Nuevo State Park amongst so many others. Connecting virtually and in-person just makes sense to Valerie, commenting, “having done the PORTS program before our field trip, students made a stronger connection to their learning than they would have otherwise.” While exploring the park, Valerie noticed her students regularly exclaiming “Hey! That’s the thing they showed us!”
Valerie connected with Angel Island, not just for a fun day at the park, but to draw deep and meaningful connections to learning in and outside the classroom, Valerie shared, “I teach US History thematically and looked at it when we looked at diversity, equity, inclusion, and immigration. Many of my students are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations from Asia, Central and South America. Students build empathy for each other and our community by sharing these examples or immigration history. It’s also just really nice to be outside!” Blended-access allowed her students to draw meaningful, personal relationships with this park. After years or teaching history, Valerie understands, “Kids will listen but when they see the people behind those stories you feel them step forward to look closer.”
Due to it’s remote nature, and logistical considerations for in-person field trips, Angel Island can be difficult to access and PORTS makes it possible for students to connect with the park that may never have the opportunity otherwise. Valerie specified that when it comes to accessing our State Parks “Only 3 of my students had been to Angel Island before and those were on other school trips, none had gone with their family. The only way that these students are accessing these places is through school and these programs.”
As students were boarding the ferry to leave Angel Island, they caught a glimpse of a group of campers arriving in the park. A number of students expressed interest asking Valerie, “so can we go camping?!” When reflecting on her field trip Valerie mentioned “I hope my students understand that you don’t just come to see the immigration station, there’s other places you can go too.”
passPORTS is slated to serve well over 4,000 students this school year. To learn more or explore parks to visit with passPORTS, click here.