The CA PORTS (Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students) Program is an award-winning distance learning program that has served K-12 teachers, students, and education partners with live, interactive video-conference presentations from our California State Parks. The PORTS Program provides free interactive virtual field trips for K-12 students across the state of California. Per their website, this program “connects students to California State parks and allows them to explore [these] parks with California State Parks interpreters.”

The program, that began in 2004, has been offering PORTS On-Demand programs now for 17 years with the 2020-2021 school year being their most popular year yet. During the 2019/2020 school year, PORTS served over 170,000 K-12 students with live synchronous distance learning opportunities! As of of April 2021, for the first time in their 17-year history, all PORTS On-Demand programs are fully booked!

Teachers and students have a plethora of offerings to choose from within the PORTS Program. From immigration history at Angel Island State Park to elephant seal adaptations at Año Nuevo State Park to desert animals and habitats at Anza-Borrego, there is no shortage of programs that reach across grade levels and subject areas. The PORTS Program provides students with a unique experience to learn more about California’s natural, cultural and historical resources.

State Parks interpreter Parker shows a close-up of the intertidal zone at Gaviota State Beach – just one of the many different experiences that PORTS offers students and teachers. (Photo credit: CA PORTS Program)

My first experience with the CA PORTS Program was two summers ago when I was teaching 4th grade science during a summer school program. We had the opportunity to speak with an interpreter from Anza-Borrego State Park.

My students had 45 uninterrupted minutes with a knowledgeable interpreter who was generous with her time, conscientious of my students’ needs, and answered all of the questions that were spurred by their curiosity over animal habitats and fossils.

With distance learning this year, I knew these field trips would be invaluable learning experiences for my young 1st and 2nd graders – so I started booking my field trips in December. Even during the winter, I was surprised to see that many of the PORTS Program offerings were already filling up! I was able to snag two virtual field trip reservations – one for Giant Sequoia ecology and the other for marine pollution.

This week, my 1st/2nd grade classroom got to meet with State Parks interpreter Ms. Jenny and learn about the Giant Sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, located in Northern California. Jenny had been clued in to the needs of my special education classroom and was super patient with students as they “oohed and ahhed” over the giant trees at her work place. She answered all of their questions – even when the conversation veered off topic (one of my students asked if she’d ever seen Bigfoot in the park!)

State Parks interpreter Ms. Jenny discussed how giant sequoias need fire in order to help open the cones to disperse sequoia seeds.

Jenny let my students showcase their knowledge of the sequoia trees we had been learning about in our classroom the last few days and gushed over their life cycle diagrams of sequoia trees. Jenny was everything a State Park interpreter should be and my students loved every minute with her. (Thank you, Jenny!)

After this week’s PORTS experience, we are looking forward to our next virtual field trip in June where we will be learning about marine pollution at Gaviota State Park!

Parents and students alike learned much from Ms. Jenny; here, she shows students how wide a sequoia tree can be and tells the story of how this one was cut down by early settlers to the area.

Although the PORTS Program On-Demand experiences have been filled up for the remainder of this school year, there are still ways to connect your students with California’s State Parks. PORTS also has a Home Learning Program where students are able to view webinars as a larger group of students. Teachers are able to register for these webinars and then share the link among their students. PORTS Home Learning Program has available webinars through June 15th. For more information, please visit their website here.

Apart from their Home Learning Program, PORTS also offers a variety of pre-recorded broadcasts, filmed and featuring their State Park interpreters. For a list of previous broadcasts and digital content, check out this page.

The CA PORTS Program also has over 300 topics found in the Flipgrid Discovery Library that allows students to connect with park experts anytime. (Photo credit: CA PORTS Program)

Because of programs like PORTS, I can provide my students with FREE, enriching experiences that allow them to make real-world connections in science, social studies, and California state history. If you’re an educator and haven’t had the opportunity to experience a PORTS On-Demand program yet, check out their website and sign up when offerings for next school year open. You won’t regret it – and your students will be begging you for more!

For more information, follow CA State Parks PORTS Program on Twitter.

About Kristin Oropeza
Kristin is a full-time special education teacher, contract consultant, and educational content writer. She is a Google Certified Teacher (Level 1 and 2), Google Certified Trainer, and MIE Expert for 2020-2021.