By Eleanor Burns (USC Intern)

There was a buzz of excitement and anticipation as the school bus pulled up at the Fern Dell car park in Griffith Park. Despite it being fairly local, this was the first time at Griffith Park for many of the students. The bravest of the bunch sprinted off the bus, ready to explore, while the more timid hung back a little – keeping their teacher’s warning of possible snake sightings in mind. Soon this fear was forgotten, and everyone was getting their hands dirty – picking up sticks, smelling flowers and investing how many legs there were on each creepy crawly!

Hiking in Griffith Park with Vanalden Elementary School

As they discovered new things, the kids chatted away, their imaginations running wild with all the stimuli around them – but there was one common topic, dinosaurs! Mrs Burns, their teacher, explained to me that they had just learned about dinosaurs in class that past week. “Miss! Look at this!” exclaimed one very excited second grader who was examining a funny shaped rock, “I think I found a dinosaur fossil!” Soon everybody was looking for dinosaur fossils of their own – what a great way to bring the classroom alive!  

To the Van Alden kids everything on this trip was exciting, but nothing more so than speculating what might be lurking in the river. It was endearing to see that little fishes and animals could cause such excitement ad inspire so many questions about wildlife from the children, and this continues to show how important it is to get children outdoors and to spark their curiosity.

Hiking in Griffith Park with Vanalden Elementary School

Some of the other volunteers on this school trip were parents, and I found myself chatting to one dad in particular. He said this was his third ICO excursion; he had helped out with the class trips of his other two children and was now accompanying his youngest daughter. He had a huge smile on his face as he took what seemed like hundreds of photos of his little girl having fun with her friends and spoke about how he and his children always looked forward to the ICO hikes. He appreciate the valuable service that ICO provides for schools and children as it’s not always easy to find the time and means get places yourself. On top of this, many of the children were enthusiastic to tell their parents about their day and their discoveries and hoped to come back.

After thoroughly exhausting their little legs, the second graders sat down for lunch. Now, the topic of discussion was about what everyone had to eat, which highlighted the diversity of cultures in this one elementary school class. I watched an Indian girl and a Pakistani girl chat about how the food they eat at home is similar to one another and compared how Urdu and Hindi (their home languages) have similarities as well. On the next table, a boy was proclaiming that he loves being Mexican because Mexican food us his favorite! Mrs. Burns explained to me that she loves teaching in LA for its multicultural nature, and this was something she never got to experience growing up in the Midwest. Despite being from all different backgrounds, the students shared their interest in the nature around them and all agreed it had been an awesome day as they climbed back on the bus, sad to go back to school.