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Volunteerism reaps rewards

Docents needed for the Rush Ranch Patwin program

It takes a village to achieve lofty goals. Solano Land Trust is only able to serve our community thanks to the supporters and partnering organizations that share, and help us to accomplish, a key part of our mission.

The Rush Ranch Educational Council (RREC), is one of those partnerships that get kids outside on our lands in nature’s classroom, and they are recruiting for more help to do it.

Since 1994, RREC has taught over 37,000 Solano County school kids through the Patwin Program. Last year alone, docents greeted 1,491 third and fourth graders. That’s a lot of kids getting outside to learn about local history!

We asked RREC president, Karen Vittorio, to tell us more about what it takes to join the popular docent team that make the Patwin Program possible.

The free-of-charge program fulfills California standards for history and social studies, and teaches the students about the Patwin native people who were seasonal residents of the Suisun Marsh.

The program is so popular that all the available slots are filled the same day RREC opens registration for the season.

Solano Land Trust: What are you looking for in a docent?

Karen Vittorio: We welcome all skills, backgrounds, and ages. The more varied the experiences of our docents the better. Ideally, they are lifelong learners who enjoy sharing their knowledge with others; they are naturally curious and still in possession of a sense of wonder; and they possess an infectious passion about scholarship that affects every student entrusted to our care. This person doesn't have to have teaching experience, but should be okay with speaking to small groups.

SLT: Is there training involved? If yes, when is it?

Karen: We provide docents with a manual that includes a syllabus and background materials for each teaching station of native plants, food preparation, baskets and games, village life, trading, and hunting. The new docents follow a group of students through each of the six stations with a seasoned docent. The new docent will continue to shadow until they feel comfortable enough to assist an experienced docent, and when they’re comfortable, teach at a station on their own.

SLT: What is expected?

Karen: Docents adhere to a basic format that's guided by our state's education standards. We developed the program using the standards for third and fourth grade social studies and history, and it's imperative that the program adheres to those standards.

SLT: What days are docents needed and how much time is expected?

Karen: The program takes place on Tuesday mornings during the schoolyear, with a long break in December and January, and a break around Easter.

SLT: Any environmental considerations?

Karen: Docents don't have to be marathon runners or too athletic, but shouldn't mind the half-mile, round-trip walk to and from the village site. A love of the outdoors is a good trait to have as well.

SLT: Finally, what's fun and great about being a docent for the Patwin Program?

Karen: As there is simply not enough time to list all the fun and great things about being a Patwin Program docent, I'll list a few of my personal favorites:

1. You will improve your community. While children are the primary beneficiaries by simply getting outside in nature, teachers and schools benefit as well. With so much strain being placed on education budgets, the service we provide to educators creates a domino effect. Teachers are able to give their students a richer learning experience that can result in better retention of material, higher test scores, increased self-esteem and confidence, and a more positive educational experience. This can lead to fewer dropouts and more graduates, which benefits the entire community.

2. You will have a greater sense of purpose. According to many research studies, those who volunteer gain better health and greater longevity, improved mental and physical fitness, and less depression.

3. You will make new friends. One of the best ways to get out there and meet new people is to volunteer! Our Patwin Program docents may differ in background and life experiences, but the thread that ties everyone together is the desire to give back and share their skills with each other and the community. All of us benefit from these ties that bind, and we carry these benefits into the world, creating ripples far wider than anyone can imagine. Who wouldn't want to rub elbows with such dedicated and talented folks?

The 2019-2020 Patwin Program season begins on Tuesday, September 10. RREC invites anyone interested to come watch them in action - just show up any Tuesday about 9 a.m. and introduce yourself to our Patwin Program director, Ann. Or send her an email.

Photos courtesy of Solano Land Trust and Karen Vittorio.