Former intern helps launch GGBA high school program

This spring, Golden Gate Bird Alliance partnered with the East Oakland Boxing Association to offer a pilot eight-week high school environmental program. EOBA is a 25-year-old youth leadership organization located on 98th Avenue, just a few miles from Arrowhead Marsh. Besides offering athletic training, EOBA hosts after-school tutoring, an organic garden internship, classes in dancing, cooking, and more. GGBA was able to offer EOBA a field-trip based environmental program, introducing ten high school students to the natural areas of the Bay through weekly trips to local parks.  Activities included birding, bug identification, native plant restoration, and a tour of a wildlife rehabilitation center. The partnership with EOBA was a way to expand our previous high school internship program to serve a larger number of teens.

Martin Rochin, a former high school intern with Golden Gate Bird Alliance, was able to return to work with us as a college intern for the program with EOBA. Below he reflects on his experience as mentor to the high school students.


By Martin Rochin

I first began working with Golden Gate Bird Alliance in 2007, when I was only 16 years old.  As a child in a low-income family in East Oakland, I hadn’t really explored the natural world around me. I seldom strayed from my bus route to school.

When my teacher at Oakland Unity High School told me about the internship opportunity at Golden Gate Bird Alliance, the idea of being outdoors, identifying birds, and doing restoration work was foreign to me. Through the internship, I was able to visit places such as Arrowhead Marsh and Alcatraz – places that I had been surrounded by all along, but was completely unfamiliar with.

This was what I had in mind when Marissa Ortega-Welch offered me an opportunity to come back and work with GGBA as an assistant in the first-ever environmental high school program at the East Oakland Boxing Association. Six years after my high school internship experience with GGBA, I had completed two years of college at U.C. Santa Barbara. I was back in Oakland, working to raise money to complete college. I had reached out to Marissa and Anthony DeCicco at GGBA simply in the hopes of finding a job that would be more enriching than working in retail.

Martin Rochin (far right) as a high school student, on a trip to Yosemite with the GGBA high school internship program in 2007.

Working with the high school students sounded wonderful. I wanted to take part in the program because I wanted to help young students to discover the natural world around them, just as the program had done for me as a high school student. I thought that six years after my own experience I would have a lot to teach them.

The results, however, were pleasantly surprising. Reflecting back on the program, I can honestly say that I’ve learned just as much from the high school students as I was able to teach them.

I had the pleasure of accompanying the high school students to natural areas many of them had never been to before. It was eye-opening for me to see how each of the students would react differently to the places we went and the activities we did. It was interesting to see what each student got excited about because it was often different things and their excitement taught me more about them.   hrough the lens of the different places we went, the student’s personalities were able to come out and shine.

One example of this was on our trip to Arrowhead Marsh. While some of students had been to the park before, they had never gone on a bird walk and done restoration work there. On the bird walk, Maria and Claudia were glued to their binoculars.  Maria, who was generally the quieter one in the group, made great observations about the birds.  As we walked out onto the boardwalk, I was worried that Jonathan, who is more talkative, was disinterested and wasn’t getting anything out of our nature walk. But then he reached down and caught a Western Fence Lizard that was soaking up sun on the underside of the walkway.

Bug hunting in Joaquin Miller Park with the Insect Science Museum of California.

Suddenly he was excited. Cupping the lizard in his hand, he explained to me that he often caught them with his brother. He pointed out the blue belly of the lizard to all the other students.

When we headed over to do restoration work, it was Isabel’s turn to get excited. An energetic and gregarious ninth grader, she welcomed the chance to do some hands-on active work. She immediately named her plant “Toby” and began digging a hole for it.  Isabel’s enthusiasm for planting was contagious and it made the whole group excited too. When we were finished planting, we all gathered around “Toby” for a group photo.

Martin helps Isabel plant "Toby," a native California Sagebrush at Arrowhead Marsh. bPhoto by Marissa Ortega-Welch

There were so many times throughout the program when the high school students opened my eyes and taught me things.  While getting an up-close look at live raptors at the Sulfur Creek Nature Center, one student, Maya, demonstrated an excellent knowledge about the physiology of the birds we saw. On a bug collecting trip at Joaquin Miller with Eddie Dunbar of the Insect Science Museum of California, Joey demonstrated he had quite the knack at catching bugs. He managed to catch a rare butterfly, which took even our leader Mr. Dunbar by surprise.

Martin and the EOBA high school group with "Toby" and the rest of the native plants they planted at Arrowhead Marsh. Also pictured – Dan Robinson of East Oakland Boxing Association (top row, on left) and Lakisha Mitchell-Mellor, Restoration Specialist for GGBA (top row, second from left). Photo by Marissa Ortega-Welch

Getting to return and work with this organization has been a wonderful experience. When I was younger, trips with GGBA transformed my perspective on my surroundings, and helped me realize the beauty and diversity of where I lived. It also taught me about the importance of protecting our environment as well as some of the ways I could go about doing so.

It has been a privilege to return to this work as an adult and offer the same experience that I had to a younger generation of students. But my own experience has been just as enriching. All of these trips were a learning experience for me, not only about the wildlife we encountered, but also about the students themselves.

I got to work with great and dedicated students, teaching them what I knew but also having them teach me what they knew, which turned out to be quite a lot! I’m sure the experience has broadened their view of their hometown and the Bay, and in turn these students have broadened my view of the world.


Martin Rocha will be attending the Outdoor Educator Institute program this summer, gaining experience in backpacking, kayaking, and outdoor trip leading.

Martin Rochin with the young women of the EOBA / GGBA Environmental Program. Birding and Ice Cream at Lake Merritt. Photo by Marissa Ortega-Welch