Janneke Peterson was looking for a way to bring the classroom outdoors. And by partnering with the Jefferson Land Trust and six state schools, she’s been able to do just …
Janneke Peterson was looking for a way to bring the classroom outdoors. And by partnering with the Jefferson Land Trust and six state schools, she’s been able to do just that, launching the Youth Ecology Education Restoration pilot program this fall.
Before joining the Washington Native Plant Society as YEER coordinator full-time, Peterson was a seventh-grade teacher at a private school in Seattle. A background in environmental science and curriculum writing was key to her using the classroom as a “launchpad” for project-based learning.
“There’s a lot of theoretical support, [but] very little actual support for teachers to do that,” she said during a recent Zoom call.
“I needed an expert partner,” Peterson said, to make her five-week curriculum and restoration project concept succeed.
With a statewide knowledge base, and a trained stewardship program, the Native Plant Society was the obvious choice, she said. The program was designed to replace existing middle school life science curriculum, which focuses on ecosystems.
This new model would get kids outside, on the land, to see the science happen.
Next, was getting local schools on board.
“We are asking for a very significant participation from classroom teachers,” Peterson acknowledged. “[YEER] combines field work restoration with rigorous standards aligned classroom curricula.”
Statewide, six schools agreed to participate. Four schools are using their own school yards as restoration sites, which Peterson is thrilled about.
“Schoolyards are typically biological deserts,” she said.
Two schools are working off campus. And one of these lucky schools is Quilcene K12 School.
“I’d love to have one our pilot schools in my area,” was Peterson’s thought.
And she lucked out. Jeff Taylor, the new middle school and high school science teacher, had been trying to incorporate an outdoor-based program since 2019.
“I reached out to Jefferson Land Trust two years ago, before COVID hit, wanting to get a fieldwork component,” he said.
Taylor, who once worked with the Grand Canyon Trust and the U.S. Forest Service to do a similar program in Flagstaff, was ecstatic when Peterson reached out.
Apparently, they were on the same wavelength.
Enter Jefferson Land Trust.
“We were thrilled to be approached,” said Carrie Clendaniel, preserve manager for Snow Creek Forest Preserve.
Knowing that 20 eager eighth-graders would be helping record data in a rigorous academic way fit perfectly with her vision of mentoring the next generation of land stewards.
“It’s so exciting because it meets state standards of scientific learning,” Clendaniel said, explaining why Peterson’s pilot was especially appealing. While Clendaniel has experience with place-based learning, she’s impressed by the YEER program.
“This is by far, I would say, the most in depth,” she said.
The Snow Creek Forest preserve is 103 acres and follows Snow Creek to the Salmon Creek Estuary at the mouth of Discovery Bay.
This permanently protected landscape provides critical habitat for native plants and animals, but is suffering from previous disturbance in some areas.
Formerly used as a ranch, a timber camp, and an airport, the research location has sprouted a vigorous crop of invasive reed canary grass and Canada thistle.
“Ideally, this becomes an annual program,” Clendaniel said. “We’re looking for funding to support partnerships.”
Taylor envisions a multi-year program, too.
He’s a champion of vertically articulated learning, where grade levels build on the knowledge of past units of fieldwork to develop progressively sophisticated techniques.
In the future, should funding for the program pull through for further seasons, Taylor imagines starting with sixth-graders, who already complete a Nature Bridge project. He would further expand into eco-systems science, in the field and on campus. Seventh-graders would look at the role of salmon in the Snow Creek ecosystem; in eight grade, they would incorporate soil and water testing.
But that’s still a little bit plant-before-the-seed.
During the last visit to the preserve, Clendaniel and Peterson joined Taylor and the students.
“They were making some great observations,” Clendaniel said, adding that the site restoration will begin in November.
They’ll cut weeds in flagged off areas to access the ground, where a series of native plants like Douglas fir and snowberry will be transplanted.
They’ll be using seed stock from the South Puget Sound area, which is similar in climate to the Snow Creek area, which should help seedlings establish themselves with less stress, she added.
“I try to make all my education relevant in their lives,” Taylor added. “I think they’ve been pretty excited about it.”