This spring, Mrs. Tomm’s and Ms. Bouvette’s Grade 7 class at Columbia Park took part in Wildsight’s EcoStewards program – stepping out of their classrooms and connecting to their natural surroundings by not just learning new concepts first-hand, but getting those same hands dirty with their very own stewardship project, planting over 200 native plants along the Illecillewaet River to reduce erosion.
On their first field day, the Revelstoke students participated in a wetland exploration – discovering the form and function of various species, creating nature models using natural objects, dip netting for invertebrates and learning about aquatic plants. Field day number two started at the Painted Turtle Kiosk atop Red Devil Hill, where students learned about the natural and human impacts affecting painted turtles. After viewing the EcoStewards Painted Turtles Banner project from the previous year, students continued hiking to Williamson Lake, stopping along the way to learn about nature’s services, tree identification, beaver habitat, natural riparian zones and invasive species.
On the last day of the EcoStewards program, the Grade 7 class biked all the way from Columbia Park to the Mark Kingsbury Bridge on the Illecillewaet River. Students then rolled up their sleeves and worked together to plant native species on the west side of the bridge to decrease erosion, prevent land loss and increase habitat. Students planted over 200 plants in the riparian zone, including willow and cottonwood. Sue Davies, from the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society, also joined the class to discuss invasive species in the area.
And it is not just the Columbia Park Grade 7’s that are getting their hands dirty. Ms. Leach’s Grade 5 class will soon be learning about riparian zones and the types of plants their Grade 7 counterparts planted—all before rolling up their own sleeves and heading out to Mark Kingsbury Bridge to check-in on the vegetation addition, adding a top dressing of compost and fertilizer and showering with water.
“I love teaching Wildsight programs like EcoStewards,” said educator Janette Vickers. “These programs really connect students to their community in ways they often have not realized were possible,” Janette added. “I especially enjoyed watching the little moments where the students momentarily became the teachers, like when they would explain the value of this stewardship project to their community neighbours and strangers that happened to pass by Greenbelt trails during the planting.”
The relatively new EcoStewards program was born out of the sparks created during other outdoor education programs provided by Wildsight. Programs like Classroom With Outdoors, which marched over 2000 students from around the Columbia Basin deep into the wild world of their own backyards on day-long field studies to their local grasslands, wetlands, forests or old growth forests this school year.
In the Revelstoke area, a total of 257 Grade 4 – 7 students from Arrow Heights, Begbie View Elementary and Columbia Park put their pencils in their pockets and headed out the door to investigate local ecosystems at BC Hydro Floodplain Flats, Mt. MacPherson Demonstration Forest and Revelstoke Flats. “A lot of our students do not spend very much time participating in outdoor activities, so giving them the opportunity to go to different areas around Revelstoke and learn about the environment is very valuable,” said Mrs. Tomm. “So many of them were surprised and didn’t even know these places existed.”
There really is no substitute for being able to take a concept from a textbook and bring it to life from the vantage point of a forest floor or from within the hidden world of an aquatic insect. Once a student sees first-hand how examples of the things they learn in school can be found in the real world—in their backyard—a whole new universe is unlocked. And with education and awareness being the first steps toward taking action, that unlocked universe is in good hands. Maybe a little dirt under the fingernails, but good hands nonetheless.
“A special thanks to the Columbia Basin Trust, Columbia Power Corporation, Fortis BC and the BC Gaming Commission for their financial support in making these Wildsight programs possible year round,” Janette added. “And an extra big thanks to the parent volunteers, the Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society, Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society and Sagebrush Nursery for helping make this Revelstoke stewardship project such a success!”