The goal was to create a multi-school effort where students could take part in habitat restoration and ecosystem monitoring, opening opportunities for outdoor learning
The school building stands silent; the last student went home hours ago. As twilight starts to fall, stadium lights blink on above a soccer game at the athletic field. But just a few steps away, a habitat is alive with activity. Birds chatter and flicker among the cattails, and tall grasses bend in the breeze. Moths flit through delicate wildflowers near a sandy moundtop teeming with ants.
Thanks to a generous Washington state grant, this wetland will be preserved and restored by students over the next school year, becoming an integrated outdoor learning space for the View Ridge and Sunset Ridge campus. A similar space at South Ridge Elementary will become a schoolyard/backyard habitat.
View Ridge Middle School science teacher Katie James headed up the grant project. The goal was to create a multi-school effort where students could take part in habitat restoration and ecosystem monitoring, opening opportunities for outdoor learning. The project at View Ridge and Sunset Ridge extends restoration efforts started by a school partnership with the Ridgefield Lions Club and the Watershed Alliance.
Next year, the space will become a vast outdoor classroom as students plan the habitat spaces, create interpretive displays, plant native plants, and monitor wildlife and water quality. Next fall, STEM students will build and place nesting boxes for eight native bird species, houses for mason bees and butterflies, and bat boxes. They will also build benches for the trail to create a shared space that can be utilized by teachers of all subjects.
At South Ridge Elementary School, teachers Jackie Bergeron and Amy Hunt are leading efforts to create a certified Backyard Habitat, with a nature trail and outdoor classroom space. Students will design the backyard habitat around the area’s microhabitats (wetlands and oak savanna), with the goal of creating future demonstration sites like rain and pollinator gardens. They are already getting started, organizing volunteers for trail construction that starts at the end of the month.
Both groups are partnering with the Watershed Alliance, which will provide consulting on habitat restoration, teacher training, and decision making as the projects move forward. The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge will also provide education specialists for classroom visits on a range of topics, including invasive species and natural habitats.
The teachers leading the project come with their own credentials: James is a Science Teacher Emeritus with vast experience leading high school biology field projects. Hunt is a member of the Clark County Bee Club and the Naturescaping Club who has served on two school garden teams. And Bergeron is a Master Gardener who has collaborated with the Refuge on trail restoration.
The grant from the state of Washington and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will make major changes in the school spaces, not just for the students but also for the natural spaces that are such a large part of Ridgefield’s beauty. James, Bergeron, and Hunt are grateful for the opportunity to expand the Ridgefield School District’s longstanding tradition of outdoor learning that began more than 50 years ago with Cispus Outdoor School, a weeklong camp for fifth grade students.
With the new grant, the View Ridge, Sunset Ridge, and South Ridge campuses will create new, impactful learning opportunities for nearly 1,800 students over the coming year—and those students will ensure the habitats can be studied and enjoyed for generations to come.
Even as school is ending, new projects are beginning with the summer trail construction at South Ridge. “I wanted everyone to have access to the wonderful space we have here,” Bergeron said. “The project will turn our back property into something very special. I am so excited and cannot wait to break ground.”
Keep an eye out for these special spaces over the coming year. As Ridgefield grows, students will be going the extra mile to protect the nature that surrounds us.
Information provided by Ridgefield School District.
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