Conservation + Comics
Our on-going, innovative, and unique program, Conservation + Comics, which to date has served over 350 youth at Cabrillo National Monument, brings together art, technology, and the sciences to create lasting and deeply personal environmental stewardship for at-risk and underrepresented youth in the greater San Diego area. Students experience guided nature exploration of the park with a biologist, then our art education partner, Little Fish Comic Book Studio, leads students to creatively express their scientific learnings through the creation of an original comic strip. Students share these stories at their schools and during events in the wider community, such as San Diego Comic-Con. Students and their teacher who recently attended the program, enthusiastically thanked the staff with such comments as “thank you for teaching me about biodiversity;” my students were “all actively engaged and focused on presenting their story of conservation through the creation of individual comics;” “an excellent introduction to the need for all of us to be conservationists;” “great opportunity to look at the challenges of much of the park’s flora and fauna;” and “I loved the comics lesson.” Such hands-on experiences enable at-risk students to personally experience science in substantial and permanent ways. The use of art as a method for understanding and communicating science ensures that students can access conservation learning for years to come.
Cabrillo National Monument is the only National Park in San Diego County. One of San Diego’s jewels, it presents a unique opportunity for visitors to experience almost 500 years of San Diego history, and enjoy, learn and interact with a variety of natural resources including pristine tidepools, and the endangered Coastal Sage Scrub plant community. Due to its proximity to the city of San Diego, local visitors can experience the park easily. Especially important to the park’s mission is increasing opportunities for local students from underserved populations to experience all aspects of Cabrillo National Monument, and to learn the important role conservation has at the park. The Conservation + Comics Program serves as a powerful vehicle for students to learn about the biodiversity of the park and how it is being conserved. By using art to solidify learning, Conservation + Comics cleverly combines science and creativity and students take their message to their families and the wider public in San Diego. Conservation + Comics deserves special recognition for its unique and innovative program for students who might not otherwise experience science in their own backyard.
Since it began in 2018, Conservation + Comics has had a wide impact, reaching over 350 youth in the last year alone. Underserved youth from local schools, libraries, and non-profits travel to Cabrillo National Monument and engage with park scientists and educators to experience conservation learning. With this platform, students are provided with an opportunity for exploration and deeper dialogue into science and nature. During the program, students accomplish various tasks such as exploration of threats like the loss of biodiversity or climate change. Students are encouraged to critically think in an inquiry-based format as they brainstorm solutions, and finish the workshop by communicating the science they just learned through the innovative platform of nature comics. At least fifteen workshops are held annually with 10 - 50 participants per session, which will equal a reach of at least 750 students by the end of the program in August of 2020. Conservation + Comics gives students and their families a connection to and an opportunity to experience the biodiversity of San Diego, thereby creating an increased commitment to environmental stewardship which, in turn, serves the mission of the National Park Service. Program scientists presented the program at San Diego Comic-Con with workshops and panel discussions with local artists. The presentations were filmed and rebroadcast, ultimately increasing the audience and impact.
Conservation + Comics owes much of its success and creation to the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation (CNMF). In partnership with Cabrillo National Monument, CNMF provided staff time, materials, supplies, partner fees, marketing, and the promotion of the program to its members and the general public.
Cabrillo National Monument's Science Education Biologist partners with Little Fish Comic Book Studio to provide the art side of the program through the creation of students’ comic books. Little Fish Comic Book Studio is a nonprofit educational corporation serving the San Diego region, and is dedicated to developing an appreciation of the comic art form through a wide variety of student programs. Little Fish aims to give each student, regardless of their prior educational backgrounds, age or identity, a realistic, working understanding of what it takes to be a professional comic creator, all while giving them the catered instruction designed to better them as individual artists at a pace that works best for them.
The City of San Diego’s Central Library hosts and promotes Conservation + Comics workshops, and the Monarch School's students formed long-term, project-based learning about a science subject matter that they learned about on their nature walk. With the artists of Little Fish, they created a comic that set an establishing shot (a scene of CNM), a close-up of the characters involved (an animal or plant they learned about on their walk), and two panels that illustrated both the threat to the characters and a solution to the problem. For example, some students selected the plant-pollinator couple of Shaw’s Agave (Agave shawii) and the Mexican Long-tongued Bat (Choeronycteris mexicana).
Urbanization is a problem that might be preventing the Mexican Long- tongued Bat from reaching CNM, so some students proposed the solution of introducing the bat species to the Monument. At the end of the lesson, Monarch School’s students were able to define biodiversity, learned that biodiversity is threatened, gained knowledge about the region’s biodiversity, brainstorm solutions to the loss of biodiversity, and present their learnings through art.
Conservation + Comics also partners with schools from the San Diego Unified School District.
In addition, during San Diego Comic-Con International (July 2019), Conservation + Comics leaders participated on a panel discussing the program platform. Leaders were able to field questions from the public as well as meet others who may be interested in participating in the program. Further, Conservation + Comics leaders provided two free public workshops to the library over the span of San Diego Comic-Con which increased the reach to different demographics.