Retired Del Mar teacher continues to teach at San Elijo Lagoon

By Kristina Houck

Although Carol Sharpe retired from the Del Mar Union School District two years ago, she continues to teach children at San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve.

The Del Mar resident is one of 40 “naturalists,” or docents, who lead walks through San Elijo Lagoon, nearly 1,000 acres of coastal wetlands located between Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Solana Beach, extending inland from Pacific Coast Highway to Rancho Santa Fe.

“For me, it was such a fit,” said 70-year-old Sharpe, who worked as a teacher for 25 years, most recently as a third grade teacher at Ocean Air Elementary School. “One thing I miss most about teaching is the kids, and this is a wonderful way to keep working with kids.”

Launched in 1995, the docent program is funded by San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation, interpretation and public enjoyment of San Elijo Lagoon.

Docents lead walks for children on field trips during the school week and for members of the public on weekends and summer evenings. More than 3,800 people visited San Elijo Lagoon last year for docent-led field trips and nature walks.

“Kids learn about the wetlands in the classroom and we get to show them the wetlands,” said Sharpe, who noted that the organization’s school programs are science-based and grade- and subject-specific. “We’re the hands-on part of the curriculum.”

Although she walked through the reserve before, Sharpe said she was unfamiliar with the ecology and history of the reserve until she participated in the eight-week docent-training program two years ago.

From fiddler crabs that wave oversized claws to attract mates, to trapdoor spiders that construct burrows to catch prey, Sharpe said she enjoys learning about the reserve as much as she enjoys teaching others about the reserve.

“You get all the knowledge that you need, and everybody is so welcoming and so helpful,” said Sharpe, who continues to learn about the reserve by studying the docent manual and attending monthly meetings. “It’s a wonderful training program.”

San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy is currently expanding its education program and looking for more volunteers to lead guided walks and field trips, and help raise awareness about the wetlands.

Sharpe encourages interested volunteers to apply online at Training is held 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday mornings, as well as two Saturday mornings, Oct. 1 through Nov. 19 at San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center, 2710 Manchester Ave., Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

The public is also invited to learn more about the program during the Docent Open House from 3-5 p.m. on Sept. 8. at San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center.

“It’s really important for kids and adults to become good stewards of the environment,” said Sharpe, who also enjoys spending time with her husband, two children and three grandchildren, and taking classes at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. “When you are a docent, you are promoting that. It’s very rewarding putting yourself out there and getting so much back. Whether you’re working with adults or kids, you know you’re making an impact.”

For more information, visit