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Students Speak: Local kids and their teachers step outdoors 

In these days of short money and educational communities wondering how they're going to keep going on what they have, finding teachers getting the best bang for the buck is fantastic! If you were in Bend last Thursday, happened to walk into the theater at McMenamins Old St. Francis School, and took a minute to see and hear what was happening, you wouldn't have left until it was over. Students from around Central Oregon were gathered for one of the most exciting meetings you could hope to find: "Students Speak: A Watershed Summit."

Every buck spent on that exciting event went into preparing children for their role as mover-and-shakers in the world of natural resource management, or stated another way, "stewards of our Earth."

While the Freshwater Trust, and Wolf Tree, both 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations, along with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council were the organizers, they wouldn't have gotten the program rolling without the money that it takes to make these things happen. The list of sponsors represent people who stepped up to the plate and did what our community businesses always do when someone holds out their hand for support of an educational program that will help create winners. They included: Play, Central Oregon Flyfishers, Les Schwab, and many more.

When you combine that financial support with teachers and planners who can see the need for introducing students to the world they live in - to preserve what we have for tomorrow - things begin to happen.

The summit started with an opening address given by Richard Louv, author of Last Child In The Woods. Louv said of the students, " are the people of the landscape, the people of the water, the people of who we are, and if you want to go to Harvard - go outside!"

Ryan Shaffer and Anne Thomas, teachers at Ponderosa Elementary, are far ahead of Louv. They are using a pond near the school to provide their students the opportunity to go outside and (literally) get their feet wet in the area of scientific investigation.

Shaffer thought it would be a good idea for Bend Parks & Recreation - who own the pond - to know about the quality of the water for future fish planning, and after talking it over with Thomas, put their students to the task. In so doing, the students are hooked into a scientific investigation that will cover the entire school year.

From the beginning of the watershed summit, at 10 a.m., right up to the closing ceremonies at 1:30 p.m., young people from the first grade to high school presented reports on their work with water.

REALMS, a public charter school for sixth through eighth-grade students who are seeking a small, active and challenging educational environment was there with 23 eighth graders. The eight graders did a slam-dunk job presenting their data on the 16 visits they made to the Tumalo Creek watershed, monitoring water quality and the welfare of a planting program that was implemented in 2003. They also demonstrated how they are contributing to a data collection site established by The Freshwater Trust,, and sponsored by W. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, IBM and the Lamb Foundation. REALMS students ended their part of the summit with a slideshow depicting their time in the field that was accompanied by the students' readings and reflections.

Zachary Bergler, a first grader from Thomas' class at Ponderosa, presented a paper on the different equipment the class used to study water quality of the pond adjacent to the school. He was followed by Evan Bleyer, another first grader who described how they carried out the water quality tests; while Alex Shaffer gave an overview of the study.

All in all, there were 17 children from Ryan Shaffer and Anne Thomas' classes who presented papers at the watershed summit. Drew Fenter and Wyatt Goff, both third graders, gave an overview of their part of the project, while D. J. Whitworth, another third grader, presented the conclusions of the project.

In addition to REALMS and Ponderosa Elementary, Sisters High School IEE students in Rima Givot's biology class presented their work in the Trout Creek Conservation Area and Wolf Tree's lands on Whychus Creek. Crook County students shared their work in Ochoco Creek and everyone who participated placed their thoughts and feelings into a beautiful sand mandala project. The watershed summit was a day of money well spent, time used wisely and the energy of teaching channeled where it will do the most good for children and natural resources.

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