In collaboration with the Teen Center, Pajarito Environmental Education Center, the Department of Utilities and the Los Alamos Golf Course, Matthew Allen, Golf Course superintendent, recently completed a new educational class with teens.
“Learning on the Links” was designed to introduce teens to environmental concerns and how they relate to various types of facilities in Los Alamos County. Classes were held for six weeks during the spring school semester and 17 students participated.
A wide variety of classes introduced teens to environmental challenges in a fun and creative way. For example, students participated in an aquifer water experiment that used ice cream, chocolate chips and cereal to represent the different types of soil found in Los Alamos. Root beer acted as the “rain.”
Two of the classes included field trips to the Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Smart grid/Smart house to discuss facilities operated by the Department of Utilities. The final three classes were held at the Los Alamos Golf Course. Students participated in labs where they tested the water and the soil.
The water lab tested the differences between waste water and drinking water and compared the nutrients available. The soil lab revealed what type of nutrients are in the soil and how to interpret those findings to understand what types of nutrients need to be added to keep plant and grass growing and healthy.
At the end of each class, students were provided golf balls and clubs and taught how to hit golf balls. Several students who had never played golf before were able to successfully hit golf balls on the driving range.
The new program was the County’s first effort to merge recreation with science in a setting that was part classroom or lab, and part outdoor adventure. Allen, who joined the golf course in August 2014, has over twenty years working at golf courses.
“Residents may think of the golf course only as a recreational asset, but it is also a living laboratory where a lot of science is used to grow and maintain healthy grass on the course,” Allen said.
Allen is completing his master’s degree at Penn State and developed the idea to combine teaching about the environment within the backdrop of the golf course as his capstone project.
“There are other youth golfing programs out there, including First Tee and First Green, that are designed to introduce children to the golf course,” Allen said. “I wanted to go beyond that, and demonstrate to teens here the specific methods that the County uses to care for the environment, so that they can have a better understanding of these issues within a municipality. Hopefully, this is just the first step in creating this new and innovative blend of recreation and environmental science, and I would like to adapt the experience to teach children of all ages.”
In the future, Allen welcomes groups to come out and visit for just one class or a series, adding that they will always get a chance to “hit a few golf balls” as part of the experience.
“Learning on the Links” is currently structured around a school year, Allen said. But he added that he would like to eventually expand the program. Youth groups who would like to learn more about the programs are welcome to contact Allen at email@example.com – they can set up a time to visit the program when it is in session or discuss their particular interests. Allen said he anticipates offering a fall “Learning on the Links” session and will announce dates for those sessions later this year.