On Thursday, August 16, we welcomed Breakthrough students back to San Juan Capistrano after a tour of two national parks and one California state park. Eighteen rising tenth graders visited Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and Monterey Bay through the generous programming of Birthright America, a foundation whose goal is to help young people explore America’s National Parks.

Birthright America was founded by Amy Gallup, a humanities teacher from Hollywood, Florida. After taking a family trip to visit America’s national parks, Gallup was inspired to help all young people experience the same majesty. In an interview with the Miami magazine, Voyage, Gallup said of America’s National Parks, “Their bounty and diverse beauty astound me.” Now, Gallup’s passion for immersive education fuels the work of Birthright America. “As a lifelong educator,” Gallup explained, “it was essential to me to create and integrate a curriculum connected to the national parks as part of the learning experience the students would enjoy” (Voyage).

Gallup, as well as science teacher Cynthia Hori, led our BTSJC students for the six-day trip. Although the itinerary originally included a stop at Yosemite National Park, fire conditions and poor air quality necessitated a change of plans. However, the back-up plana visit to Monterey Bayturned out to be a crowd favorite, especially for students Keana Boessler, Brenda Galvan, and Cat Morales.

While exploring the Monterey area, the group embarked on a whale-watching adventure, where Cat reported seeing “at least fifteen whales.” “It was incredible!” she remarked. Cynthia Hori took this opportunity to teach the group about bubble netting, a unique feeding tactic in which whales swim in circles while blowing bubbles to create a column of bubbles (the “net”) that traps fish. Watching the whales, BTSJC students got to experience first-hand the immense learning that often occurs outside of a classroom.

There were a couple bumps in the road, namely when the bus broke down on the way to Sequoia National Park. BTSJC students proved resilient, and the group soon arrived in Sequoia, where the students, Gallup, and Hori linked hands around a giant sequoia. Sequoia’s trademark sights—centuries-old trees and shaded green—proved even more rewarding after the long journey.

Ultimately, the National Parks trip was a chance for Breakthrough students to reconnect with their friends after a long summer and dare to try new things in the outdoors. We are so proud of BTSJC tenth graders for courageously stepping into this time of experiential education. Thank you, Birthright America, for making this trip a possibility!

For more information on Birthright America, and to read Amy Gallup’s interview with VoyageMIA, check out this link.


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