waste, water and worms

Students at Willamette Primary get schooled in sustainability
by:  Students work with Phil Anderson to make an adobe.

Fourth- and fifth-grade students at Willamette Primary School spent a day getting their hands dirty, sifting through the trash, finding worms and playing with mud - all the while learning about the environment and sustainability.

The school held a sustainability teach-in Nov. 30 for all fourth- and fifth-grade students. The students participated in a wide variety of classes, each with its own theme of preserving the environment.

This is the second time the school has hosted a sustainability day. The first one was two years ago. By holding the event every other year, every student in the school will eventually get a chance to participate.

'We've done a lot in our district in sustainability,' fifth-grade teacher Carlene Rhoades said. 'It helps the students understand the different areas of sustainability.'

The sustainability day classes ranged from learning about curbside composting to creating a greenhouse garden to watershed. Each class was taught by an expert in the subject. Many area organizations helped make the event a success, including CREST school, Far West Fibers, Oregon Metro, Clackamas County, Clackamas Environmental Learning Center, OSU Extension Service and Habitat for Humanity to name a few.

'We are helping kids understand (they) have an impact on the environment and empowering kids to be active citizens,' Rhoades said.

Willamette Primary received a grant this year to install a garden on the school's site to accompany an existing greenhouse. During sustainability day, Bob Carlson from CREST taught students how the greenhouse works.

Kids also learned how to eat naturally and avoid foods loaded with preservatives; they learned how to be responsible pet owners; they learned about recycling; and they learned where their drinking water comes from.

In Freda Sherburne's composting class, students each received a plate full of food waste, worms and bugs. The kids were fascinated.

Using spoons, they dug through the pile on their plates trying to identify the creepies and crawlies in the mix. Besides the gross-out factor, the students learned the value of using food waste and turning it into something that helps gardens grow.

Rhoades also mentioned that a couple of the school's classrooms currently use composting bins to recycle leftovers from lunch.

In the gym, students learned how to construct a building using natural materials. The students created cob, which is a mixture of clay, sand, straw, water and dirt. The material is similar to adobe.

In the waste audit session, the students did a little dumpster diving. The previous day, teachers collected trash from four classrooms. The students then had to sort through the garbage and pull out what could be recycled and what food scraps could be composted.

In a lesson about erosion and water quality, students in the riparian trees class learned how vegetation along rivers and streams helps preserve the water and sustain fish. The students experimented with blowing through a straw into cups filled with gravel, sand and silt and to learn how difficult it is to get oxygen into water filled with silt.

In all, there were 16 different sessions held throughout the day that students could attend. The students carried notecards with them to jot down what they learned in each session. They were then to return to their normal classes and shared with each other what they learned.

The day ended with a Rockin' Water Road Show by Recycleman and the Dumpster Divers - a concert based on water conservation and good stewardship.

Rhoades said the sustainability day is a way to reach a large group of students and give them a lot of information in an affordable way. She said fieldtrips with similar lessons would be too expensive.

'The sustainability of our environment is directly related to these children,' Rhoades said. 'To bring those experiences to them is unique and important to them.'