Private school takes hands-on approach to earth sciences curriculum

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Carter Podd, 3, watches several ladybugs crawl on his hands before releasing them into a garden at Touchstone School on Southwest Fir Loop, in Tigard.Students at Touchstone School in Tigard don’t have a problem getting their hands dirty.

A swarm of 90 preschoolers flooded the private school's small garden Monday morning for what has become an annual tradition: The release of thousands of tiny, red and black ladybugs in honor of Earth Day.

“I love ladybugs!” shouted one student, as her classmates screamed and danced around the small garden.

About 5,000 of the insects were released on the school’s grounds and nearby flowers, said Principal Cindy Galligan.

This is the third year students have released the insects as part of Earth Day celebrations.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - 5,000 ladybugs were released by preschoolers at Touchstone School as part of a celebration of Earth Day on Monday. “We were looking for something unique that could be a visual reminder for children to give to the environment and participate in Earth Day,” she said. “And, at the same time, the kids are studying insects. It’s a nice way for kids to see it all go full circle.”

Ladybugs serve as a natural pest control, explained Gavin Hidalgo, 5.

“They eat the bad bugs!” he exclaimed, as a small red and black insect crawled up his sleeve.

His twin brother, Bryce, agreed.

“Some have no spots,” he said. “And some have spots.”

Monday was the 43rd annual Earth Day. Celebrated around the world, the holiday is often commemorated with the planting of trees, recycling and park cleanups.

But students at the school have been doing their part for the environment throughout the year.

Students here are taught the importance of the natural world and their role in keeping the planet healthy, said teacher Madeline Smith.

“We have a lot of hands-on, progressive learning,” said Smith, who has worked at Touchstone for 14 years. “There is so much technology today, it’s important to slow down and say, ‘This is the cycle (of the Earth), this is the process.’”

This spring alone students have hatched chickens and raised tadpoles. The students are currently waiting for caterpillars they raised earlier in the year to transform into butterflies. The insects are expected to hatch from their cocoons and be released sometime this week.

“We focus on the lifecycle,” Smith said. “Whether it’s walking sticks, worms — anything we can get to show the kids in a natural way.”

Touchstone operates three campuses on Portland’s west side, including an elementary school in Lake Oswego and preschool and kindergarten in Beaverton.

The Tigard location specializes in youngsters aged 2 to 5 and teaches them to be environmental stewards, Smith said.

“It’s important for them to understand what their part is,” she said. “Even at 5 years old, they are an integral part of that process. With the immediacy of day-to-day life, we try to take a step back here.”

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Ethan Ruby, 4, watches a ladybug crawl on a magnifying glass he holds before releasing it in a garden at Touchstone School in Tigard. Students learn about the life cycle insects in class and release thousands of ladybugs each spring in celebration of Earth Day.Students tend to the garden by planting, weeding and watering the flowers. Families also come out once a month to help in the garden.

“It’s great,” Smith said. “It’s very cooperative. We recycle and compost and use a lot of the things we grow — the herbs especially — in the kitchen for the kids.”

Today, few plants have poked above the soil in the school’s five flower beds, but students say the ladybugs will help keep other gardens in the neighborhood free of pests.

“Then, when they’re gone, they fly away,” Bryce Hidalgo said.

By this summer, Galligan said, students will be picking ripe fruits and vegetables from the garden for snacks.

“Our process of learning is by letting children have those real-life experiences rather than them reciting rote information back to us,” she said. “When they have a visual of thousands of ladybugs all over, it makes a big impact.”

It certainly did for the Hidalgo brothers, Bryce and Gavin, who each said that ladybugs were their new favorite insect.

“Earth Day is important because we get to celebrate the planet,” Gavin said.

“Plus you get to release ladybugs,” Bryce said, matter-of-factly, “and that’s why we celebrate Earth Day.”

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