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A study of explosions

For over three decades, Riverdale fifth-graders have taken a hands-on learning trip to Mount St. Helens


Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BRIAN BLACK - Riverdale Grade School fifth-graders have taken a trip to Mount St. Helens to learn about volcanology since 1983.Riverdale Grade School students have been visiting Mount St. Helens for almost as long as the active volcano has been missing its peak.

The 8,365-foot-high landmark in Skamania County, Wash., blew its top in 1980, and three years later, Riverdale fifth-graders were on the scene. Students learn about plate tectonics, natural history, plant succession (the changes in plant species that take place in a location over the years) and, of course, volcanoes during an intensive, hands-on, multi-disciplinary academic journey.

“Students absorb by being in the field and taking in what they see in a way they can’t do in the classroom,” says Dietrich Nebert, a fifth- and sixth-grade science teacher and the trip leader. Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BRIAN BLACK - The Mount St. Helens trip included a tour of nearby Ape Cave.

This fall, the fifth-graders hunkered down in cabins at Silver Lake Resort, then sped off to their lessons in the natural world. The children could be found hiking to the edge of Spirit Lake, listening to ranger talks, meeting with geologists, going geocaching during a Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center activity, visiting the exhibits at Johnston Ridge Visitor Center, exploring the lava-made Ape Cave, painting watercolor depictions of the landscape and journaling about all they saw and did. The writing process affords student time to think more deeply about the experience, Nebert says. Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BRIAN BLACK - At Johnston Ridge Visitor Center, students enjoyed a three-dimensional model highlighting the workings of Mount St. Helens.

“The great thing they do every day is they journal just to slow down the learning process,” he says. “It’s writing narrative — personal narrative — and integrating writing with content areas like science and social studies.”

Riverdale fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher Larissa Reece also participates in the Mount St. Helens tour, and she says having children learn in the field first-hand about concepts they’ve studied in the classroom engages them at all levels.

Reece is one of many teachers and parents who have helped with the project. At the most recent adventure, (Sept. 29-Oct. 2), the children were supervised by not only teachers but also a rotating entourage of about 20 parent volunteers per day. The trip has been around so long and so many people have been involved that it’s taken on a storied aspect.Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BRIAN BLACK - Some logs still remain in Spirit Lake in the wake of the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980.

“It’s a rite of passage,” says Leslie Mahler, a substitute teacher at Riverdale whose two children, now in junior high and high school, went on the trip. “My kids, they loved it.”

She said children love the tangible quality of the lessons and years later can still sing out portions of the curriculum.

“You get to touch it, feel it, smell it. That’s what’s fun about” the experience, Mahler says.


By Jillian Daley
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503-636-1281, ext. 109
email: jdaley@lakeoswegoreview.com
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