Support from Nature in Neighborhoods grants
Metro has awarded several Nature in Neighborhoods grants in recent years to support restoration, conservation education and capital improvements in the Columbia Slough watershed.
Slough School community engagement: A 2014 conservation education grant provided $67,000 to the Columbia Slough Watershed Council. The project prepared the next generation of watershed stewards through hands-on ecological programming for elementary through college students in North and Northeast Portland, North Gresham and Fairview. The program also connected residents to their local natural areas through community-based stewardship projects.
Whitaker Ponds Nature Park restoration: A 2015 restoration grant provided $25,000 to Verde. The project used Verde Landscape, a community-based social enterprise organization, to comprehensively restore Whitaker Ponds Nature Park through engagement of underserved communities. Participants restored three primary habitats in five areas of the park.
St. Johns Community Conservation Program: George Middle School received $94,000 for a 2015 conservation education grant to support programming in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM) education. The money paid for a 10-week STEAM-based boat building project run by Wind & Oar Boat School in 2017 and 2018; a two-semester STEAM mapmaking curriculum; field trips with Columbia Slough Watershed Council’s Slough School; a neighborhood tour for mapmaking; and canoeing the Columbia Slough at Kelley Point Park.
Darcy Gill, STEAM elective teacher at George Middle School, will create a roadmap for a lasting STEAM curriculum at the school. Portland Public Schools will offer professional development to middle-school teachers to build capacity to provide nature-based environmental and conservation education.
Whitaker Ponds Nature Park improvements: Portland Parks & Recreation received a $423,000 capital grant in 2014 to improve safety, accessibility and aesthetics at the park's main entrance on Northeast 47th Avenue. The project includes an improved, expanded parking area, construction of the sidewalk leading to the natural area and increased native plant diversity. The project will also include removal of the fencing along Northeast 47th Avenue, making the area more welcoming to visitors.
On a cool May morning, 24 students from George Middle School stepped off a school bus in Kelley Point Park at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers. The seventh graders were only a few miles away from their North Portland school, but some hadn’t known this place existed.
The students had come to paddle the last stretch of the 19-mile Columbia Slough before it spills into the Willamette. Their field trip was sponsored by the Columbia Slough Watershed Council’s Slough School and funded in part by a Nature in Neighborhoods grant from Metro. It would be the first time on water for many of these young students, even though they’d just built a rowboat in their science classroom.
As the tandem canoes launched, the noise of industry gave way to the sounds of birds and the splashing of paddles. Some spotted geese in the cloudy sky, and a lucky few caught a glimpse of a blue heron.
“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream,” one boatload of students sang as the four rowing crews settled into competition and teamwork.
The journey was a highlight of a multi-year focus at George introducing students to North Portland’s abundant but often overlooked natural environment. Grant-funded educational activities also extend to students in some of the 40-plus schools within the Columbia Slough watershed in Portland, Fairview and Gresham. Often, the Columbia Slough Watershed Council is at the center of it all.
The Slough School’s goal is to link school science curriculums “with authentic science and positive outdoor experiences,” said Jennifer Starkey, the watershed council’s education director and leader of the kayak outing. “We want to give them an opportunity to form relationships with natural areas.”
Science, math and nature
Learning about nature and about how their own neighborhoods relate to their natural surroundings help students gain skills in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math – the elements of what’s now called STEAM education.
George Middle School has embraced that ethic in a big way.
This spring, Darci Morgan’s seventh-grade science students built a Bevin’s Skiff, a 12-foot flat-bottom rowboat, in a 10-week project led by the educational nonprofit Wind & Oar Boat School. The boat will be launched at the Willamette River Festival on July 30 at Cathedral Park.
Students said they learned more from working with their hands than from reading a book.
“I learned different parts of the boat, and I learned that you can make the parts that you need,” said Fredy Sanchez, 12. That included learning how to curve wood, Sanchez said.
In the same science classroom, sixth-graders constructed a 3-D map of the North Portland peninsula, complete with buildings and bridges across the two great rivers, using Styrofoam and papier-mâché. The finished 8-foot-by-8-foot model, built on a scale of 1 inch for every 5 feet, is a new venture for Wind & Oar, one that benefitted greatly from access to Metro’s sophisticated GIS maps.
The project went on temporary display at Portland City Hall June 14 and will move to the Portland Public Schools’ central office in several weeks.
Sixth-grader Damien Cook said he has learned math by cutting the right scale for his pieces of the map, and he now thinks about the topography of his community. When you learn by doing, “science is more fun, and (you) engage more,” he said.
Wind & Oar staff members lead the boat construction and mapmaking sessions, creating a low student-to-teacher ratio that helps student learn, said Peter Crim, the nonprofit’s executive director. “Every student is getting personal attention,” he said.
Connecting with their neighborhood
About this series
Metro has invested in community nature projects for more than 25 years. Through this occasional series in 2017-18, we’ll revisit projects that previously received Nature in Neighborhoods grants or local share money to find out where the projects are now and what difference Metro’s investments made.
As of early 2017, Metro is not accepting Nature in Neighborhoods grants applications. Grants paid for with money from the 2006 bond measure and 2013 parks and natural areas levy have all been awarded.
In November 2016, voters renewed the Metro parks and natural areas levy. Money from the levy renewal will be available starting in July 2018, and more Nature in Neighborhoods grants will be available then.
Before starting on the map, the students had to be introduced to their own neighborhood. Many were not aware of the vast topographical variations from the rivers to the heights of Forest Park just across the Willamette River.
“These kids do not understand where they live,” said Crim. “Half of them had not crossed the St. Johns Bridge.”
With the Metro grant funding, George STEAM elective teacher Darcy Gill will use this year's curriculum to create a roadmap for a lasting STEAM curriculum at George. More broadly, Metro’s funding will help pay for professional development for teachers in North and Northeast Portland middle schools to learn about nature-based environmental and conservation education during the 2017-18 school year.
Following the hour-long canoe ride, Starkey called out to students who’d previously attended Sitton Elementary School. Holding Henrietta the Blue Heron, the watershed council’s plastic mascot, she reminded the students that some of them had planted vegetation here two years earlier as part of the Students Engaged in Restoring Vital Ecosystems (SERVE) program. The plantings cooled the slough’s water for fish, and gave birds a place to live.
She demonstrated by launching a game of hide-and-seek.
“Look at all the cool places to hide,” she declared. “You did that.”