When we learned that students in our neighborhood wouldn’t be going back to in-person classes this fall, we decided to do something to help make this year seem a bit more normal for these K-2nd grade students.

For six Wednesdays, we invited students to experience horticulture, science, and art in the garden. They conducted plant experiments, learned about native and invasive plants, studied wildife, and even dissected trout! It was all smiles as we made painted salmon cutouts and built birdhouses at Gaiety Hollow, perhaps the best outdoor classroom a kid could ever ask for.

We lined up a wonderful assortment of guest eductors, conducted horticultural experiments, learned how to do plant propagation, went on a field trip to a wetland, met a biologist, saw a real beaver dam, and had a great time doing it all.

In the first class, students began an experiment. Each student planted two pots of sugar snap peas, one pot with seeds pre-soaked in water for 24 hours, and the other with dry peas straight from the packet. Each week the students measured and recorded the growth of the peas in both pots. As younger students, they learned some basic skills with this little experiment, including writing the date, using a ruler to make measurements, and most importantly gathering data to make scientific observations.

This pandemic hasn’t been easy on anyone, but students who are just setting out on the journey of learning and socialization are arguably the ones who will suffer the greatest if they don’t receive a solid foundation in science and environmental awareness.

Working with these kids gives me a hope for the future. No matter how bleak it may seem with the downplaying of science in today’s politics, a day will come when the next generation has more influence. They are learning how it all works and I feel confident they will apply this knowledge towards remedying some of the problems we face today.

A big thank you goes out to the parents who helped with the weekly classes, Chet Zenone for providing the wooden salmon and birdhouse kits, the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District for providing educators, Laurie Aguirre and the City of Salem water team for helping with the field trip and trout dissection, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for the biology tour of the Fairview Wetlands, and Pam Wasson for her leadership in creating a safe and socially-distanced experience for the students.

Have a safe week.