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Ernest Righetti High School Students to Explore the Wonders of Yosemite

The wonders of Yosemite will be shared by a class of high school students, many of whom have never been out of Santa Maria.

Ernest Righetti High School senior Melissa Steller has organized a trip called the "Steller Science Expedition" this Saturday through Monday. The experience for 25 students is part of teacher Dr. David Preston's Open Source Learning curriculum that engages students to collaborate, work together toward a common goal and enlist help along the way. The program accomplishes English literature and composition requirements and allows students to take action through the use of technology.

Steller's project within Dr. Preston's "Masterpiece Academy" reflects her enthusiasm for learning by experiencing nature.

"Growing up I have always had a passion for the environment,'' Steller said in her course blog. "Yosemite has always been my home away from home and is where I find my solitude. It's where I do my best thinking and feel most at peace. For my senior project, I wanted my classmates to get a taste of what goes goes on inside my mind so I planned a trip to take them up there."

Steller began her project last May with a visit to the park and a genuine desire to express and share the adventure.

Each student in Dr. Preston's courses pursues his or her own path. Current projects include an amazingly diverse range of topics: in the last few days students have taught each other about their learning journeys through architecture, cooking, renewable energy, bodybuilding, and big animal veterinary medicine. Students are presenting their projects and blogs during the next few weeks.

"The projects had to embody our passions, connect us to the real world and engage our classmates, so I knew my chance to make this trip happen had arisen,'' Steller said. "Yosemite has a huge place in my heart. If I had my own dictionary you could look up the word passion and the word Yosemite would be there next to it in bold! Everyone there is your friend, there is positive energy and it's just infectious.''

The trip will not only build personal connections, but offer the students information about geology, geography, science and other disciplines. They will receive information from the Nature Bridge Program, which specializes in environmental science. The group will stay in cabins at the Crane Flat campus, which is on the edge of the wilderness and next to a grove of giant Sequoias.

Students Kylie Sagisi and Kendall Villa, who will see this natural wonder for the first time, know their journeys are about building connections — one of the open source learning program's main ingredients.

Dr. Preston's approach includes the principles of the Common Core — collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity — and gives students the opportunity to "venture into new boundaries outside the classroom."

"We are challenging the idea that learning only happens in the classroom,'' said Dr. Preston, adding the students organized and planned their own assignments from the start. "We are disrupting the idea that we are locked into passive consumer roles. These students are learning entrepreneurs who create and contribute value in our community. And they are aiming high. For something like Yosemite, you just can't talk about it ...you just have to go.''

The trip costs nearly $8,000. Although most of the money has been raised with fundraisers and donations, Steller said, more funds are needed before the new adventurers of the natural world embark on their journey. Donations can be mailed to the Steller Science Expedition, 405 E. Clark, Orcutt, CA 93455, or dropped off at the Old Town Market in Orcutt.

Check out Steller's blog by clicking here.

— Kenny Klein is a media affairs coordinator for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.

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