Naturaleza Ahora!/Nature Now!

The Straub Environmental Center is launching Naturaleza Ahora! a new initiative designed to help Latino students access the outdoors and learn about natural science. It will be one of the most important community-based efforts the Center has embarked upon to date.

This multi-year project will identify the needs and priorities of Latino students and their families, develop outdoor programs that are responsive to those needs, and find innovative ways of reaching out to the Hispanic/Latino members of our community. Our goal is to double the number of Latino students who participate in outdoor education over the next year and help them develop social, academic and workforce readiness skills through natural science education . . . in nature.

Our goal is to get kids outdoors.

Science instruction has been reduced or eliminated in most elementary schools in our region and understanding natural science concepts is posing new challenges for students of all ages. At the Straub Environmental Center, our programs provide student-centered, inquiry-based outdoor education at field sites throughout the Willamette valley with a focus on oak savanna and other native valley ecosystems. 

Our teacher-student ratio is 1:6 and our award-winning educators each have an average of 28 years of classroom experience. We help kids of all learning styles and cultural-economic backgrounds explore nature, discover science, and learn how to become environmental stewards.


Why a Latino Engagement Initiative?

37% of students in the Salem-Keizer School District identify as Hispanic/Latino. And statistically, Latino families are the second lowest participants in outdoor activities in the United States. It's now common for children—especially minority status and economically disadvantaged students—to have little or no contact with nature. We want to reduce barriers for Latino students through welcoming and culturally relevant programs.

To do this, we have developed "Naturaleza Ahora!," an initiative that will increase the number of Latino students participating in our outdoor programs and enhance their academic success. By developing programs that serve all children in our Willamette Valley community, we can continue to engage and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards.

What will Naturaleza Ahora! achieve?

Naturaleza Ahora! will strengthen our ability to:
• Introduce more Latino kids and their families to outdoor experiences. Latino youth spend less time on outdoor activities than other populations and they have the highest media exposure: an average 13 hours of screen time per day. We want to double the number of Latino program participants in the next year.
• Help English Language Learner students understand natural science concepts and succeed in school.
• Provide internships and job training opportunities for Latino youth as well as information about careers in natural resource skilled trades and environmental studies.

What will this initiative involve?

• We'll convene a community-based Latino Engagement Team to help us plan and conduct a series of qualitative interviews with Latino educators, students and their families.
• We'll also provide diversity and Spanish language training for our educators and hire a bilingual education coordinator.
• With the help of a bilingual education consultant, we'll redesign existing programs, develop new programs, and measure outcomes and impacts. 


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Antonio Ramos
Director, Oregon Migrant Education Center

Antonio Ramos De Jesús was born and grew up in the dearest of indigenous Purépecha culture of the village of Cuanajo, near Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico.  From a family of traditional artisans, carving in wood was the central craft. Brightly colored paintings of images—including Calla lilies, suns and fruits—applied to furniture, tables, figurines, etc., reflected the characteristics of his community and of the typical art in his State of Michoacán.

He graduated as an elementary teacher in the State of Michoacán, and taught in his home State.  He subsequently earned a Bachelor's degree in Education, a Masters in Educational Leadership from Portland State University, and an Administration License from Willamette University in Oregon.  His work experience includes, but is not limited to: Family Involvement Specialist (FIS), Bilingual Third Grade Teacher, and Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) to the Woodburn School District. He also served as a Program Co-Coordinator, Migrant Summer School Principal and Elementary Assistant Principal for the Salem-Keizer school district in Salem, Oregon.

Antonio Ramos De Jesús is currently the Director of the Migrant Education Service Center (OMESC) at the Willamette Education Service District in Salem, Oregon.

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Catalina de Onís
Faculty, Willamette University  

Catalina de Onís is a professor at Willamette University in the Department of Civic Communication and Media. She holds affiliated positions in the Latin American Studies and American Ethnic Studies Programs and the Sustainability Institute. Her research and teaching engages how social movement actors communicate environmental, climate, and energy justice in the United States and Puerto Rico. Catalina is the recipient of a 2017 Green Fund Annual Grant, which seeks to enhance Willamette University’s internal and external sustainability communication, especially regarding issues of environmental privilege and environmental justice. This initiative is called La Chispa de Salem/the Salem Spark. As part of this project, on Wednesday mornings, Catalina hosts a KMUZ radio program called “Worldviews Wednesday.”

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Sarah Ferguson-Mañon
ESL Teacher, Waldo Middle School 

Sarah Ferguson-Mañon grew up in rural Montana, one mile outside of Yellowstone National Park.  From the Beartooth Mountains her love for the outdoors and nature grew. In addition to environmental activism, Sarah enjoys hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking and rock climbing. For over twenty years she has been an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in the Salem-Keizer School District.  Teaching has given Sarah several unique opportunities to work with youth, including piloting the Spanish and Marshallese Literacy Center for students with interrupted formal schooling, organizing the Russian Summer Science Institute, and creating the middle school newcomer program to serve our recently arrived immigrant and refugee students.

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Antonia Decker
Outreach and Engagement Coordinator, Straub Environmental Center

Antonia Decker was raised in Salem, Oregon by a family of educators. Since an early age, she was instilled with an eagerness to learn from and connect to her surrounding diverse communities and natural environments. Antonia brought this sense of commitment and service to Seattle, Washington, where she graduated magna cum laude from Seattle University with a BA in Communication Studies and Spanish.

During her undergraduate career, Antonia set up strong ties to organizations working to make change in the greater Seattle area. She spent two years working for an AmeriCorps early education program, preparing preschool children from an under-resourced community for academic success. In addition, given her Mexican background and Spanish fluency, Antonia became involved with two organizations (Casa Latina and El Centro de La Raza) committed to connecting Seattle’s Latino/a community with educational and employment opportunities. Given her passion for holistic health and wellness practices, Antonia also taught yoga classes to university students, faculty, staff and alumni during the final two years of her undergraduate studies.

Antonia is excited to be back in her hometown of Salem, to continue forming connections and fostering positive change within her local community. As the Straub Environmental Center’s new Outreach and Engagement Coordinator, she will help coordinate the Latino Engagement Team, lead DEI trainings for our staff, board and advisors, and help our organization reach out to new and existing stakeholders in innovative ways.

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Katie Gavares
Student, Willamette University

Katie Gavares is a senior earth and environmental science major at Willamette University. Her passion for the environment stems from her love of playing outdoors. She grew up backpacking, rock climbing and simply enjoying the sunshine.

Throughout high school and college Katie worked in different programs getting youth, mainly young women, into the outdoors. She holds first-hand experience interacting with nature and sees how it can instill confidence and skills that will carry through to all aspects of life. In high school, she enjoyed facilitating outdoor trainings and leading backpacking trips for kids that grew up in metropolitan areas and hadn’t had the chance to experience the outdoors. In college, she has continued to interact with the environment through studying earth science, which has evolved her understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

Most recently, Katie was the Leadership Coordinator at the Willamette Outdoor Program where she taught and managed outdoor leaders. She is very excited to combine her experience and excitement in the outdoors and her passion for education as the Straub Environmental Center’s collegiate intern.

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Erasmo Carmona
Student, McKay High School

Erasmo Carmona has been interested in nature and life sciences since he was very young. From his own backyard, he found a plethora of wonder to satiate his curious mind and a place to feel connected to nature. Erasmo has strengthened this connection through his participation in outdoor and natural science programs and extracurriculars. Through these opportunities, Erasmo also realized the importance of conserving natural environments for future generations.

During his freshman year at McKay High School, Erasmo was accepted into Upward Bound, a college and career readiness program at Western Oregon University, which he has been a part of throughout his high school experience. In his junior year at McKay, Erasmo joined the Youth Environmental Council, where he, along with students from other local high schools, took action towards sustainability, conservation, and responsible consumption. In addition, he completed a summer internship with a local nonprofit, the Straub Environmental Center, where he gained important team building and problem solving experience.

Currently, in his final year at McKay, Erasmo is an active member of his school’s Environmental Club, which works to explore and generate awareness about sustainable practices within the school and larger community. Beyond his affinity towards natural science and the environment, Erasmo expresses his love for music as a clarinet player in his school’s Wind Ensemble. Erasmo is hopeful for the future to spread positive messages even further and to have his peers follow along a path for a better planet.


Join us!

The Straub Environmental Center is currently seeking bilingual educators, high school students, and college students who are interested in outdoor education and would like to participate on our Latino Engagement Team, as a volunteer at one of our upcoming outreach events, or as an intern. Contact us for more information.


donate today

We are launching a crowdfunding campaign to support this initiative! Consider donating today. 

We are excited to announce that a generous donor has offered to match contributions to this project up to $10,000, so please consider making a donation today. Any amount is helpful and will be stewarded wisely for the benefit of everyone in our regional community!