GUEST BLOG: The following story about a recent tick encounter was shared by George Stratman, Principal of the Marin County Outdoor School at Walker Creek Ranch in Petaluma, CA.
As part of Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s educational outreach, staff visit and work with school teachers, camp counselors, and administrators throughout the Bay Area, providing instructional materials and tools and support for program development.
For more information about our outreach activities or to learn more about how we can partner with your organization, contact Jo@bayarealyme.org.
Every week, a new group of approximately 180-200 fifth- or sixth-grade students arrives at Walker Creek Ranch for a week of what is most commonly known as “outdoor education” – a highlight of the fifth and sixth-grade years for many students and their teachers. Walker Creek Ranch, Marin County’s Outdoor School, is in a stunning setting, surrounded by hills rolling gently out toward the Pacific Ocean, and boasting woodlands, ponds, and an abundance of wildlife. The school serves over 5,000 California school children each year with a dedicated team of naturalists, teachers, and support staff, all of whom put the health and safety of our student visitors as the top priority.
Ticks are common throughout Northern California, and our teacher-naturalists take time at the beginning of each week to educate each group of students about ticks in a way that gives the facts without being scary. We all know about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, and our vigilance was recently reinforced after a December visit by Jo Ellis, Educational Outreach Director at Bay Area Lyme. Jo brought a “grab bag” of tick-removal options, literature, and up-to-date information and statistics about Lyme disease. We learned about there being more than 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year in California and the US, underscoring the importance of getting students to check themselves for ticks every day they are exposed.
Notably, although I have worked in outdoor education for over 20 years, I never had to deal directly with a tick bite myself – until a few days ago. This recent experience demonstrated how having the right tools is essential to extracting a tick from a child.
“I used the tick key you gave us to pull a tick from a student two evenings ago—oddly, it was the first time in my career I’ve had to do this personally and it made it clear how important it is to have the right tools.”
The student was a 5th grader and the tick was embedded in her abdomen. The teachers were not having any luck dislodging the tick. They called me over to try, and I too struggled to get a grip on the tick because it had not yet engorged itself and was very flat. As such, when the narrow part of the tick key reached the tick’s body it slipped sideways and slid through the opening. I was able to resolve this by slipping the tick key over the tick and then using the tweezers in tandem to hold the tick’s body perpendicular to the opening. After the tick was removed, we bagged it and sent it home with the student’s teacher along with information on the symptoms to watch out for and tick-testing information for the child’s parents. (As an aside, one of our staff subsequently discovered the plastic “tick nippers” tool – also received from Bay Area Lyme – which I was confident would do the trick had the previous attempt been unsuccessful.)
Giving California school children the chance to develop a connection to nature during their five-day stay here on the ranch can be a life-changing event. Helping students understand how to check themselves for ticks – be it on a camping trip with their parents, in natural settings in their neighborhoods, or at the Outdoor School – helps them to be safe, comfortable, and confident in any outdoor setting. Thanks, Bay Area Lyme!