Over the past two years, students at Toledo Elementary School have been working to transform a barren hillside into a nature trail and learning lab. On Tuesday, June 9, they celebrated the completion of the project with a grand opening ceremony. The drive up to the school used to pass by a forested hillside next to the playground area. However, the large evergreen trees on the hill were shading the field and play structures, preventing frost from melting in the winter. For safety reasons, the trees were cut down two years ago. This exposed a naked hill that was both an eyesore and an invitation for invasive species to take over.
Last year, as part of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) grant encouraging teachers to incorporate project-based learning into their classrooms, sixth grade students in Dana Spink and Brandy Hill’s classes worked to plant native plants and began building a nature trail along the hill. They also had dead logs placed at the site so that visitors could see the natural decomposition process that takes place in a forest. Unfortunately, they ran out of time and were unable to complete the trail.
This year, Anna Rodgers, a fifth grade teacher at Toledo Elementary, joined the same STEM grant. Her students took over the unfinished project, and then took it one step further. They investigated invasive and native plants that can be found on the hillside and created a field guide to help inform visitors about what they were seeing. A sign is posted near the trail that allows people to access the online field guide through a QR code. Hopefully, some of those invasive species listed in the field guide won’t be found there much longer. Sixth graders under the guidance of their teachers, Josh Beaudry and Kali Knudson, have been working to map and remove invasive species on the hillside.
The fifth graders also continued to build the trail that Spink and Hill’s classes had begun the year before. Oregon State Park Rangers Doug Sestrich and Zach Wagman came to the school and taught students how to build a trail bed on a steep hillside. Then, using gravel donated by the facilities and maintenance department of Lincoln County School District, the students created a trail that will be accessible year-round. The community is invited to visit the school, access the field guide on their mobile device, walk along the trail, and learn more about how students are working to restore a healthy habitat near their school.