When the students at Crosswalk Experiential Learning Pathways started school this year, they may have expected they'd be spending their time behind desks, reading textbooks.

Instead, they were up to their ankles in water, pulling weeds.

The high school students were the first to participate in what the charter school intends as a 20-year school project, studying the wildlife of Mojave Narrows park.

"We took the whole school and all the disciplines out to the park," said English teacher Debbie Rubio. "I took care of the journaling."

This first week, the students cordoned off discrete areas of the park, so they can study them in further detail in the coming weeks and months, and rangers at the county park taught them about which species of plants and animals are native to the High Desert and which are invasive species brought in by colonists. (The park also waived the admission fee for the students for the four days this week they spent there.)

The students spent half a day at the park each day before returning to Hesperia for some time with desks and books.

"We did P.E., we did sports, we hiked," said Rubio. "It's neat that we were able to do school [in the park] for four days."

The environmental focus is a relatively new development for the charter school, which began life as a back-to-basics school that focused on reading, writing and arithmetic. The school has hired a biologist who oversees much of the environmental elements being woven into the curriculum.

"At first [the students] thought this was weird. They wanted their desks and books," said Rubio. "But they really warmed up to it."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.