Building Community Stewardship Through Schoolyard Ecological Restoration: NAAEE 2009 Conference, Portland, Oregon, October 7 – 10, 2009


A pre-conference workshop on Wednesday October 7, 2009 visited beautiful schoolyards in Portland that engage students in learning about nature and themselves, explored time-tested, hands-on curricula and resources for restoring native ecosystems on school grounds and collaboratively defined the essential elements of excellent schoolyard habitats. The workshop was hosted by Jen Cramer, Institute for Applied Ecology, Corvalis, OR; Maureen Hosty, 4-H Wildlife Stewards, OSU Extension, Portland, OR; Carolyn Kolstad, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service- Region 8 Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator, Sacramento, CA; Karen Kelly Mullin, Willow Oak Group, Annapolis, MD and EPS’s Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong and Rick Hall. Maureen Hosty arranged visits to three 4-H Wildlife Stewards sites—Woodward Gardens, the Learning Garden Laboratory and Atkinson learning Gardens—that demonstrate that the challenges and joys of schoolyard learning are both unique to specific geography as well as universal in their potential for discovery, inquiry and place-based education.

Woodward Gardens:
Mary Woodward Elementary School, Tigard, OR was the first stop. Begun by community adults who had been trained as 4-H Wildlife Stewards, the gardens have been truly embraced as learning environments. Four student guides gave remarkably professional, yet relaxed and engaging tours that demonstrated their learning, understanding and enthusiasm. A brief summary follows from their website.
“The goal for this project might be simply stated that “we learn by doing”. There is no better way to reinforce concepts and skills learned in the classroom than to directly apply them to real life situations. Woodward Gardens provides a greater variety of learning experiences, a sense of stewardship for our natural resources in our children, and stronger ties to the community. By incorporating the garden into the curriculum, students will have a deeper understanding of the world they live in as well as to teach them to be keen observers of that world. The following elements are included in Woodward Gardens. Tied to each of these elements are the curriculum goals and benchmarks to be addressed by each of these elements.
“In the Hummingbird and Butterfly Garden students attract and support birds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. Students learn about life cycles of species, their sensory systems, genetics, migration and other related topics. The construction and implementation of two greenhouses provides students with an actual laboratory for learning the biology of plant growth. Naturescaping with selected plantings provide incentives for wildlife to utilize the area. Raised beds for growing food provide opportunities to learn best gardening practices and nutritional values of foods. Students can compare what we grow in the Northwest with other parts of the United States as well as other countries. The METRO composting demonstration garden is used to demonstrate various ways to compost. It is complimented by an outdoor classroom. This area has tables and benches which make the garden useable even in poor weather. It allows for small group presentations to students and community. The newest addition to Woodward Gardens are two rainbarrels that capture water from one end of the outdoor classroom and a Rain Garden with native plants that filter the water from the other side of the classroom. This helps to clean the water before it gets to the wetlands.”
A major restoration project by Eagle Scouts and students and the DNR will clear adjacent woodlands of invasive species and establish native planting all the way to a nearby creek.
EPS partner Jen Cramer, Institute for Applied Ecology, led EPS activity “Botany Bouquet” with Oregon native plant species and a spirited inventing not only common names by also Latin names for the plants and including many fascinating details about native uses for the plants.

Learning Garden Laboratory (LGL)

LGL’s Beret Halverson hosted us for lunch and Karen Kelly-Mullin and Carolyn Kolstad led a discussion on “What makes a good schoolyard habitat?” and the EPS activity “Ecosystem Observations.”
The Learning Garden Laboratory (LGL) is an 11-acre garden education site located in Southeast Portland that provides K-12, undergraduate, and graduate students hands on experience and education in sustainable gardening and healthy nutrition. LGL is also home to a Portland Metro Natural Gardening Site. Established in 2005 through a partnership between Portland State University, Portland Public Schools, and Portland Parks and Recreation, LGL has served as a shining example of an education site in which knowledge is truly serving the city.
During the 2007-2008 academic school year, approximately 340 Lane Middle School 6th and 7th grade science students and roughly 50 8th graders visited to work on special projects in the garden. In addition, several local elementary schools visited LGL on field trips, including 180 students from Woodmere Elementary School and 80 students from Lewis Elementary School. LGL also served as a site for a special service project for 50 St. Mary’s students and was visited by 30 students involved in a local Schools United Neighborhoods (SUN) summer program.
Weston Miller, Oregon State University Extension urban horticulturist, and Beret Halverson, OSU Extension assistant, bring years of gardening and education experience to LGL and have worked to continue and build upon the on-site garden education for Lane Middle School 6th science students and continue the multicultural Farmers-in-Residence program for Lane Middle School families. OSU Master Gardener and Organic Gardening Certification programs help maintain the site while also providing students and community individuals the knowledge and skills necessary for educating others about sustainable gardening and growing food. Beginning this winter, the Learning Garden Laboratory will produce a portion of vegetables to be served in Portland Public School cafeterias.

Atkinson Outdoor Learning Gardens:
The Outdoor Learning Gardens (OLG) project at Atkinson Elementary School in Portland, Oregon was founded in Spring 2001 by two Atkinson parents trained as 4H Wildlife Stewards. From our initial native plant “wildlife habitat”, we have expanded to include playground tree plantings, a multicultural garden, an outdoor classroom, a pollinator and butterfly garden, and a flower garden called The Magic Garden.
Mission Statement: “The Outdoor Learning Gardens committee is dedicated to providing and maintaining natural spaces on our school grounds where the Atkinson community can have sustained and meaningful interactions with the living world. The gardens provide environments for observation, investigation and active hands-on learning. The activities used in these living classrooms foster curiosity and imagination, and create passion for and further the students’ and teachers’ knowledge of the natural world. We aim to promote, in our school community, socially responsible, culturally sensitive and environmentally aware behavior.”

All the students participated in the site’s assessment and design, learning about native plants and habitat requirements of small creatures. The Atkinson community joined together to plant the main garden and every student had a hand in planting smaller plants and groundcovers. Our Butterfly Garden was planted by a 4th/5th grade class for Earth Day. To limit the school’s rainwater runoff, we planted trees in our schoolyard and disconnected the rain spouts to divert water into a grass-covered bioswale, landscaped with native-plants.

Atkinson’s central courtyard has been converted to a Multicultural garden that celebrates the foods in our culturally diverse community. The garden serves as a site for multi-sensory, hands-on learning about the importance of sustainability and relationships between environment, culture and language. As an integral part of the school curriculum, this garden provides a place for multi-generational, multi-cultural family involvement.

Our outdoor classroom is an amphitheater-style building seating 30 with a work area for students and teachers to interact in a covered, out-door setting. Its fabrication provided lessons in sustainability as students participated in the construction of cob benches and waddle and daub walls. A “living roof” and bioswale absorb rainwater.

The day concluded with a guided discussion to the three elements of Schoolyard Habitats and a review of FWS Best Practices led by Karen Kelly-Mullin. 21 NAAEE conferees participated.

Jen Cramer, Director, Ecological Education
Institute for Applied Ecology
PO Box 2855
Corvallis, OR 97339-2855
541-753-3099 ext. 301

Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong

Rick Hall, Earth Partnership for Schools,

Carolyn Kolstad,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service- Region 8
Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator
2800 Cottage Way W 2606
Sacramento, CA 95825

Maureen Hosty, 4-H Wildlife Stewards
OSU Extension
Sunnyside Environmental School
3421 SE Salmon
Portland, OR 97214
Phone: 503-916-6075

Karen Kelly Mullin
Willow Oak Group

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.