Planting roots with outdoor education

October 20, 2017 By eastern247
Photo: Man planting tree while students watch

Eastern Washington University education students teamed up with 150 seventh graders from Cheney Middle School to plant more than 560 trees at Marshall Creek Friday, Oct. 21, as part of a service project to increase outdoor and environmental education.

Seven Eastern students each worked with a group of seventh graders to plant trees and learn about earth science, the water cycle and water filtration – the trees will filter out pollutants, reduce soil erosion and prevent heavy flows in the spring. The service activity is part of a capstone project for EWU pre-service teachers.


“We hope that the pre-service teachers learn a greater appreciation for using the outdoor classroom, and a greater familiarity and therefore confidence about teaching about the environment,” EWU Assistant Professor Kathryn Baldwin said.

With a week of rain softening the ground before the activity, the seventh graders dug holes in the ground with their bare hands (despite being given shovels), spreading mud on each other’s faces while also planting trees and documenting their progress.

“I think the kids love playing in the mud,” EWU senior elementary education major Alysa Morgan said. “They’re grabbing the trees,

digging holes and filling them up. They’re getting to measure the trees and have their own special trees that they’ve planted.”

Morgan said the project has been beneficial because EWU students have received resources to use in their future classroom, and are able to implement their strategies in an outdoor environment.

“The students need to know that they can make a difference. If something detrimental is happening to our environment, local wildlife or the way we live, they can do something to make a difference,” Morgan said.

Aiming to increase exposure to outdoor and environmental education within the EWU education program, EWU Assistant Professors Lance Potter and Kathryn Baldwin worked with Cheney Middle School Assistant Principal Eli Holm and Kat Hall, conservation programs director at The Lands Council, to form a partnership to plant trees, introduce outdoor education to seventh graders and provide the pre-service teachers with teaching experience.

“We had grant funding and a lot of trees that we need to plant,” Hall said. “It was the perfect opportunity for EWU students to get some teaching experience, too.”

The Lands Council received grant funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology to do riparian restoration in the Hangman Creek watershed – planting trees and buffer strips along streams and creeks to prevent erosion and pollution. This funding coincided with EWU and Cheney Middle School’s vision of an outdoor education project in the Cheney area, as Marshall Creek is a tributary to Hangman Creek.

The project is also part of a larger wetland restoration project conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program located at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

“Everybody wins. We get to do education with the kids, get our trees planted, and the Eastern Washington University students get to have the experience of outdoor environmentalist education with middle school students,” Hall said. “They’re doing a really great service for our local watershed. It’s a great partnership that we’re excited about.”img_1941

In the spring, the seventh graders will make a trip back to Marshall Creek with a different group of Eastern pre-service teachers to see which trees survived the winter.

“I’ve been taking notes, and I want to see the tree and how it’s changed after winter and in the spring,” seventh-grader Abi Peek said. “I planted five trees altogether so far.”

Baldwin said the long-term goal is to grow the outdoor education curriculum, and continue the partnership between EWU, Cheney Middle School and The Lands Council.

“I think it’s a win-win-win,” said Baldwin. “The future teachers get something out of it, Cheney Middle School seventh graders get something out of it and the environment also gets something out of it.”