WWU students help Columbia Elementary School pupils redesign school grounds
Five Western Washington University Environmental Education graduate students are working with three mixed classes of fourth- and fifth-graders at Bellingham’s Columbia Elementary School to redesign some of the school grounds with a focus on providing new wildlife habitat, the latest of several projects involving the school grounds as a common resource for learners from kindergarten through grad school.
WWU’s Gene Myers, an associate professor of Environmental Studies and the instructor for the grad students’ service-learning practicum, said that he hoped the experience with the Columbia classes would help his students gain understanding and experience in facilitating meaningful participation with youth.
“My hope is that they will see that kids rise quite easily to the challenge of understanding their own stake in the school’s grounds, as well as their ability, even at this young age, to work together on a complex research, design, and problem-solving exercise like this one,” Myers said.
Myers’ students are working with the pupils in the classrooms of Bill Palmer, Chelsea St. Claire and Shannon Sampson to help them research native plants; involve kindergarteners in choosing a tree species; and identify safety, maintenance and other considerations. The Western students will facilitate each class as the children synthesize their findings and create a site plan and rationale.
The grad students participating in the project are Annitra Ferderer, The Dalles, Ore.; Sarah Sutherland, Perrysburg, Ohio; Katie Trujillo, Spokane; Nora Venne, Spokane; and Meghann Willard, Tacoma.
Ferderer said that beyond the primary aspect of continuing to learn from and work with school-age children, the project was a chance to show the Columbia students that working together for a common goal can be a powerful tool.
“My hope is that youth empowerment projects like this will form dedicated young environmental stewards and spokespeople at a community level to encourage others to make a difference,” Ferderer said.
The classes' plans will be combined by a parent and staff committee and reviewed by the district.
Columbia Elementary School Principal Melissa Ferguson said the project has been a great way for the two groups of students – grad school and elementary school – to learn from each other.
“The playground renovation project was started five years ago (with help from a different group of WWU students) and has definitely had a positive impact for our school and the neighborhood. The synergy and community spirit created from this project has been wonderful and continues to show us how much we can accomplish when we work together,” she said.
The first step of planting will happen this winter, with more work in the spring.
WWU's Huxley College of the Environment is one of the oldest environmental colleges in the nation and a recognized national leader in producing the next generation of environmental stewards. The College's academic programs reflect a broad view of the physical, biological, social and cultural world. This innovative and interdisciplinary approach makes Huxley unique, and the College has earned international recognition for the quality of its programs.
For more information on WWU’s service-learning project at Columbia Elementary School, contact Gene Myers, WWU associate professor of Environmental Studies, at (360) 650-4775.