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Learning to protect nature

by: Stover E. Harger III HANDS ON — students and volunteers gather around fifth-grader Sydney Kratky as she shows off a garter snake she found while helping plant trees at the Sauvie Island Academy Oct. 28.

Dozens of fifth-graders learned a valuable lesson last week: Sometimes to truly learn about something you have to get your hands dirty. At the Sauvie Island Academy, that is often taken literally.

The students participated in a special planting day Oct. 28 - under guidance of helpers with the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District - where each grade from K-7 helped introduce 150 small native trees to the front of the school. It was an area that was becoming overrun with invasive blackberry bushes and its steep slope was in need of stabilization.

The students all enthusiastically worked to pitch in and there were some arguments over who would get to use what tools. The only real distraction came when fifth-grader Sydney Kratky found a garter snake in the brush. But for a school whose mission is to promote hands-on learning in nature, that was par for the course.

'Once they really get out and experience it for themselves, they really start to understand,' said Michelle Delepine, conservation technician with the West Multnomah Conservation District.

The planting, which has been a goal of the conservation district for some time, is only one part of the school's mission of promoting sustainability through what's known as 'place-based education.' This September, the Sauvie Island School became a charter school after a year of efforts by parents and other community members who desired to see the school's rural setting put to use in the lesson plans.

On the horizon for the school is creating an edible garden and beginning a bioswale project.

Charter schools in the state are public institutions that operate under a specific education plan with measurable goals.