School may be out for the summer, but kids at an elementary school in Pasco, Washington, will be caring for a sagebrush plant during vacation. In the fall, they will plant out their seedling to help restore a burned area of Candy Mountain in West Richland.
At Robert Frost Elementary School, the sagebrush growing and planting project is the brainchild of Washington Native Plant Society member Gretchen Graber and AmeriCorps tutor Erin Davis, in cooperation with teachers, the school administration, and the Pasco School District.
Gretchen describes the project this way:
"The project is unique in that fourth graders sow and grow sagebrush plants in the spring, then return as fifth graders for a special field-trip to plant their plants. They experience being outdoors and actively participating in native plant habitat restoration and become the next generation of wild land stewards and advocates. The project teaches what native plants are and how they make whole habitats livable for many creatures like insects, birds, and other animals. They also learn about non-native plants and the disruption they cause to ecosystems. "
"In the fifth grade, the students study ecosystems specifically and learn about shrub-steppe habitat and why restoring habitat with native plants is a good idea, consequently they become advocates for Washington's native plants and their habitats. The majority of the students in the program come from underserved or marginalized families. We understand that hands-on activity in the outdoors has numerous benefits that include: health benefits of physical activity, students take pride in helping wildlife that depend on sagebrush, as young people they learn they have value and can accomplish difficult tasks."
As fourth graders, the kids sow sagebrush seeds in April and care for the seedlings until school lets out. Most of the plants spend the summer under the watchful eye of an experienced native plant grower, but each student gets to take one plant home to care for over the summer.
As fifth graders in the fall, the students go on a field trip to the restoration site to put their plant in the ground.
"Planting only one plant during the field trip portion may not seem like a lot, but it is the hands-on outdoor experience coupled with classroom lessons leading up to the field trip that culminate in a life-long educational experience. During our first year, we saw how vigilantly the students planted their plants and how very proud they were of their plant. We provided maps so students could return to that area and take pride in their efforts. The idea is to return to see their plants and share their pride with friends and family and to also teach others about the importance of sagebrush and habitat restoration."
Gretchen and the other supporters of the project leveraged grants from the Columbia Basin Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society and the statewide Washington Native Plant Society with donations of time and materials from the Friends of Badger Mountain, Benton County Parks, Columbia Center Rotary, Sunshine Rotary , Tapteal Greenway , WSU Extension Master Gardener Program, Lowe's Home Improvement, and BFI Native Seed Company.
"We had many, many volunteers from Columbia Basin Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society, master gardeners, and others not affiliated with any group support the project," said Gretchen.