Golden View Elementary launches environmental science school to deepen lessons of the outdoors

Fresh food has been a central part of Lori Florgan’s life.

“I think it’s just in my blood,” she said.

The Huntington Beach resident remembers when her parents owned a grocery market in Grass Valley, outside Lake Tahoe. They closed it after an Alpha Beta supermarket opened.

Florgan also sheepishly recalls being knocked unconscious after falling through a chicken coop roof while playing hide-and-seek at her best friend’s house.

As the incoming principal of Golden View Elementary School, Florgan will oversee the launch of an environmental science school at the Huntington Beach campus and the revitalization of its long-standing farm.

After commuting the past two years to the Capistrano Unified School District, where she was an assistant principal, Florgan said her new role at Golden View in the Ocean View School District is a dream job because she lives in an adjacent housing tract and will help teachers develop a hands-on curriculum that incorporates environmental science into all fields.

Beyond the experience of holding classes outside, Florgan appreciates the emotional and psychological benefits of keeping children active outdoors. It takes her back to her days in the Girl Scouts.

“Just being outdoors makes a huge difference,” she said. “Those kids that have a really busy life get to come here and get away.”

Florgan said she wants to enrich students’ opportunities to learn from and enjoy the school farm, which is officially named the Student Environmental Learning Facility. Two and a half acres are fenced off to provide a free range for chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, sheep, a goat named Ethel and an African spurred tortoise named Mr. Tortelle.

The Golden View garden offers students, supervised by staff and volunteers, the opportunity to learn about growing fruits and vegetables in raised planters. Recently the garden produced a summer crop of cherry tomatoes, kale, watermelons, onions and squash.

Fourth- and fifth-graders help maintain the farm once a week. Veteran Golden View teacher Julie Neubert said younger students look forward to starting fourth grade so they can pitch in.

“They want to get out there and do the actual work,” she said. “It’s a neat collaborative and cooperative time.”

The teachers want students to learn more than how to take care of the animals and plants, Neubert said.

“It’s not just about feeding the animals and picking the vegetables being grown,” she said. “We want it to have a lot of depth to the program.”

Ideally, students will learn by researching and implementing solutions for real problems at the farm. For example, students last year tackled how to reduce algae growth in the farm’s pond. Through online research, they concocted a plan to install bags filled with barley along the concrete-lined stream that winds through the farm. The bags filtered the water as it flowed through them, trapping particles the algae previously grew on.

Florgan wants students to continue engaging in solution-based projects.

One idea she’s pursuing is having students research, shoot and edit short educational videos about farm-related topics. Visitors and fellow students could access the videos by scanning QR codes posted around the farm.

Former Golden View principal Brett Hardy initiated the environmental science school, but it falls to Florgan to implement it in a way that’s attractive to parents and students.

Golden View’s student enrollment dropped nearly 30% between the 2012-13 and 2016-17 school years, according to state records. The trend reflects declining enrollment across the Ocean View School District.

Supt. Carol Hansen said in an email that the district is committed to offering families innovative instructional programs.

“We believe that Golden View’s unique learning space, matched with our new environmental science program, will draw families and students to the school this year,” Hansen wrote. “We have a rich curriculum, innovative teaching and a 2.5-acre farm with animals and gardens to explore. We want to maximize these unique resources for our students.”

Part of the vision for the environmental science school is to highlight career pathways not focused on at other local public or private schools.

Consumers’ growing interest in the farm-to-table movement, which favors organic, locally sourced food, presents career opportunities for students interested in culinary arts, Florgan said. Golden View students got a taste of that last year by making ice pops infused with fruit and kale from the school farm.

“Just having that experience behind them is going to help with future careers,” Florgan said.

Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.