Teaching kids to be good environmental stewards
If not for the new 4-H program at Darrington Elementary School, sixth-grader Sally Hatfield wouldn't have learned that when creek water...
Special to The Seattle Times
If not for the new 4-H program at Darrington Elementary School, sixth-grader Sally Hatfield wouldn't have learned that when creek water is dirty, it tends to be warmer because it takes in more of the sun's heat.
She knows this now because she visited a creek near her school and examined the water and its surrounding habitat herself.
"I've been in nature a lot, but I've never really looked at nature before," said 11-year-old Sally.
That's exactly the point of the new Forest and Salmon Stewards program introduced in September by the 4-H Natural Resource Program, which is jointly run by Washington State University Extension and Snohomish County.
In its first year, the Stewards program aims to teach kids about their surrounding environment — where their water comes from and how it gets polluted, plant habitats and the lives of salmon, said Gabrielle Roesch, the 4-H program coordinator.
About 70 school kids from Darrington Elementary School and Stillaguamish Valley School in Arlington are taking part in the pilot year of the program, which includes semimonthly classroom instruction and two daylong field trips to Mouse Creek in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Students visited the creek in November to map out the surrounding habitat in anticipation of a workday of making improvements to the area in early February.
"It's getting kids out there and doing something — not just talking about it," said Roesch.
The new program is different from the traditional 4-H club, which typically takes place after school hours. In those groups, kids hold leadership positions and work with adult volunteers to determine the topic of interest. There are dozens of clubs, with topics ranging from photography to cats and beef cattle.
According to Roesch, 4-H started as a rurally based organization but now is less present in the most rural or most urban of regions, having "moved" to more suburban areas. "Hopefully, youth will get excited about the program and want to join," said Roesch.
The Stewards program is a joint project of Snohomish County Surface Water Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the nonprofit Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group and the nonprofit Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force.
Its $10,000 funding comes from Snohomish County, which receives federal money to spend on rural schools. A large part of the program's goal is to introduce kids living in rural areas such as Darrington to their natural surroundings.
At the same time, those kids will mix with others living in more urban areas like Arlington and, theoretically, those two groups will learn from each other.
So far, students seem to be excited about the program.
Chuck Quantrille, one of two teachers in Darrington Elementary School's fourth- through sixth-grade mixed class, said his students seem to be enjoying the diversion from typical classroom work.
"All these kids live out in the country, and the area they're working in is probably some of their backyard," said Quantrille.
Additional field trips are also a big plus — usually a class goes on an excursion only once a year.
It also has helped demonstrate some of the other concepts the kids are learning in class.
"Right now, I'm teaching them the cycles of nature, and they can really relate to it now," said Quantrille.
Of course, the program has had some kinks to work out. The group from Arlington was smaller than the 4-H office had anticipated, and getting the kids to the work site outdoors is a logistical challenge, said Roesch.
The 4-H office also has to work closely with the Forest Service to make sure kids are making the right improvements to the Mouse Creek area.
In coming years, Roesch hopes to have two work sites and at least one more field trip per year.
As for Sally, she doesn't think she has time to join 4-H outside of school, but she's enjoying the Stewards program.
"Some of my friends are into nature, and some of my friends don't think it's as cool as going shopping and things like that," she said. "I like learning about how to help the salmon, and I think it's fun to go on field trips."
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