Desert oasis is no mirage
West Valley schools can visit the Mesquite Wildlife Oasis in Arlington to learn about science.
The “desert oasis” has two ponds and “provides refuge for Arizona’s desert wildlife,” said Rebecca Bouquot, program manager and instructor.
“This site is home to a great diversity of wildlife from frogs to dragonflies, jackrabbits and quail,” she said. “Because of the water source, there is a variety of animals that frequent the site on a daily basis.”
In the late 1990s, California-based Sempra Energy, an international utility company, developed the site and purchased nearby farm acreage in order to build the Mesquite Power Generating Station, a 1,250-megawatt natural gas fired plant, she said.
As part of the permit process, Sempra Energy was “required to restore and maintain native habitat as mitigation for the gas plant,” Bouquot said.
Mesquite Power eventually developed the “vacant water property” into an educational and wildlife habitat site for school-aged children, she said.
The plant partnered with the Wildlife for Tomorrow Foundation, which administers the educational program and maintains and operates the habitat, according to its website.
“We believe learning about natural resources is an important part of every child’s education,” Bouquot said. “Field trips to Mesquite Wildlife Oasis provide hands-on learning experiences that connect classroom lessons to the natural world, which creates a stronger bond between a student and their environment.
“This site now offers an outdoor classroom setting with portable restrooms, picnic tables, water and a trail system.”
The educational program began in the spring of 2008, and teaches free science-based lessons to second- through 12th-graders.
Its goal is to provide 30 field trips annually to West Valley schools.
“We have had roughly over 150 classes out at the site since 2008,” Bouquot said.
Litchfield Elementary School
On Jan. 23, Heather Maxwell’s fifth-grade class from Litchfield Elementary School visited the desert oasis.
The pupils learned about aquatic insects and live birds and took a nature walk.
Maxwell said her pupils enjoyed the science-based lessons immensely, and they “couldn’t stop talking about them.”
“The lessons were so fun and engaging,” she said. “I like how the instructors involved the students in everything, and guided them as they took notes on what they were learning.”
In fact, Wildlife for Tomorrow Foundation developed a customized curriculum to “match the site and the needs for students,” Bouquot said.
The foundation is teaching about insects, plants, water and wildlife this school year.
The live animals used during the lessons are from the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center in Phoenix, which is part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
“Depending on the lesson, students have the opportunity to see reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds,” Bouquot said.
The lessons are also “directly tied” to Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, she said.
Maxwell helped select those specific lessons because it “would have the highest level of interest for our students while also meeting the standards,” she said.
In addition, a hands-on approach cultivates a conducive learning environment because “they retain the information more readily than if they were to just read something in a book,” Maxwell said.
However, the pupils are not the only ones who are excited about the lessons.
“I get to work out in the natural environment teaching the outdoor science I love with a team of instructors that share this same passion,” Bouquot said, adding, “I am also honored to meet incredible educators that take advantage of this awesome opportunity for their students.”
Frances Torrez can be reached by email at email@example.com.