Americorps Voice Christine Smith and Maris Wilson
Spring 2019 Christine Smith
Education at Umpqua Watersheds is flourishing with new connections resulting in more programs and additional youth interactions! Maris and I enjoy working in the office together, collaborating on some projects and working individually on others. I’ve been continuing programs from previous years and expanding on them while finding ways to bring more experiential education to new schools. My goals for this year were to double our turnout at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Umpqua River Clean-up and to double the number of schools where we have Science Wednesday. I am proud to say that we have already reached both goals and are only halfway done with the service year!
We continue to have a presence at Fremont Middle School in their Natural Resources class. This pilot class has been successful in nurturing the students’ curiosity for nature and the outdoors. They look forward to going outside and tending to the garden while learning about the resources Earth offers. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and local volunteers teamed up with the class to offer angler education. The students learned about fish and fishing then we accompanied them on a field trip to Cooper Creek Reservoir to test their skills.
Science Wednesday at Fir Grove finished in November and started at Hucrest Elementary in January. Twenty-one bright and energetic students attended after school science club and explored the topics through experiments and other hands-on activities. Some topics we have explored in 2019 are: Weather and Climate, The Carbon Cycle, Soils and Erosion and The Water Cycle. These students thrive when they are moving around and asking lots of questions. Their energy is contagious and I’ve been happy to have lots of parent volunteers. Maris and I will be at Hucrest for their Outdoor School in the summer to present about the properties of water.
I really love exploring science with students through art. Forest Thursday at the Boys and Girls Club will continue in March, giving me more opportunities for this. We upcycle items like toilet paper rolls and egg cartons to create fun trinkets relating to the forest. I use games and questions to bring science into the project. I also began providing art activities at Casa de Belen recently. We’ve only had one day of environmental art so far, but it was fun meeting new faces and painting rocks for them. It is a very therapeutic activity for all involved.
I am very grateful for the professional development opportunities this second AmeriCorps year at Umpqua Watersheds has provided for me. In January, I began attending the Natural History and Ecology of Oregon Mammals at the Douglas County Museum in partnership with Umpqua Natural Leadership Science Hub. It has been very educational and engaging, allowing me opportunities to learn to key animal skulls and identify traits of mammals better.
In February, I joined nine other educators at the South Slough Reserve for a workshop on climate change and ocean acidification. These three days were packed with resources to adapt to my own curriculum and unforgettable experiences. The Charleston weather cleared up enough for us to take a morning boat excursion. We took water samples and reviewed studies of the estuary’s PH to understand local and global trends. We also used art to express the personal importance of what we study and teach. It was beautiful to recognize the value of art and humanities in science. We’re all connected, as are our actions, and students should always be encouraged to feel as if their talents have a place in the protection of the natural world.
In February, Maris and I were delighted to attend the State of the Beaver Conference. UW’s own Stan Petrowski played a big role in this conference and I am so glad we made it! I learned so much about beavers and have a deeper appreciation for their niche in this world. It was amazing to see people from all over the world coming together to share their studies and the status of these critters across the globe.
In January, Maris and I spearheaded the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Umpqua River Cleanup. 110 volunteers attended and picked up 4,580 pounds of trash! We are so thankful to our many community partners who made this happen: Roseburg Disposal, Douglas County Public Works, Blue Zones Project, Sherm’s Thunderbird, Casa de Belen, DC Farmers Co-op, Bagel Tree Cafe, The City of Roseburg, BikeWalk Roseburg and SOLVE Oregon. The weather was in our favor that day and it was a true community event.
This year has zoomed by and soon it will be spring! I look forward to botany hikes, sunshine and swimming in the river. My favorite time of year is when I’m outside in the sun with youth. We have lots of outdoor schools and camps on our calendar so stay tuned for summer fun.
Despite the weather, our education programs have continued at full force this winter! Christine and I are working to expand our reach in the community through our education and outreach programs, as well as continue our own professional development through conferences and events.
In January, a new Science Wednesday program began at Lookingglass Elementary School. 5th grade students were able to learn about the water cycle, soil erosion, and more. Typically, our last lesson is about using a GPS to find caches hidden around the school, but due to inclement weather, we improvised. Instead of learning about GPS, we learned about compass use and how to navigate to the hidden treasure using the cardinal directions. A fun challenge for the group!
At the Boys and Girls Club, spring is coming and plants are blooming! I spent an afternoon with students planting pea seeds in egg cartons for them to take home. We reviewed the basic needs of plants and talked about how the egg cartons will decompose in the soil. They even had a chance to make their own flags to mark the containers in order to remember what they planted. Soon enough, they will be taking that knowledge outside to the garden.
One of my favorite things to learn about in the natural world are birds. In February, I was able to continue expanding my knowledge of these animals in Oregon by attending the Winter Wings Festival in Klamath Falls. I participated in workshops and field trips that allowed me to learn more about raptor identification and how these birds are banded in the wild in order to track their movements. In addition, I was able to meet one of my favorite authors, Julie Zickefoose, and listen to her keynote addressing her work in combining art with bird rehabilitation. A truly wonderful experience that only makes me want to continue my bird watching education!
Christine and I also had the chance to attend two other conferences in February. The first was The State of the Beaver, hosted by UW’s president, Stanley Petrowski. This conference brought together scientists and environmentalists from across the world to discuss beaver conservation efforts. It was fascinating to hear all about the work that is being done by these professionals. The second conference was PIELC, the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. I was able to attend sessions about social and environmental justice in the agricultural industry, the usage of the Endangered Species Act in Oregon, the Green New Deal, and more. It was a great insight into the state of the environmental movement here in Oregon as well as around the globe.
Our MLK Day River Clean Up in February was a resounding success. We had over 100 volunteers attend to help clean up Riverside and Gaddis Parks. In total, over 2 tons of trash was picked up! I am so proud to live and work in a community that values service and working with neighbors. A big thank you to all of the volunteers and partner organizations, as well as those who donated supplies and food for our volunteers.
It’s hard to believe that my term of service with Umpqua Watersheds is at the halfway mark. I hope to spend the next half continuing to expand our education programs in the community and working to connect with more people in Douglas County. Coming up, I will be starting a new Science Wednesday at Winchester Elementary School and will be assisting at some of the science education programs at the Roseburg Public Library. I am so thrilled to continue this work and can’t wait for some sunny days with students!