Collaboration is Key in Montana Eco-Schools
Here I am almost halfway through my AmeriCorps term as the Sustainability and Habitat Educator for the Northern Rockies, Prairies and Pacific Region, and I could not be more excited about the enthusiasm for environmental and outdoor education here in Montana. Through the National Wildlife Federations’s Eco-Schools USA program, schools in our region are discovering new and inspiring ways to connect their kids with the surrounding environment.
Montana’s newest Eco-School, DeSmet School in Missoula, is utilizing the Schoolyard Habitats pathway to plan improvements to their school garden, with an end goal of developing a fully functioning outdoor classroom. Through a wonderful collaborative effort, a class at DeSmet School now has plans to work with staff at Home ReSource, a local nonprofit building materials reuse center, to build a table with seating for their outdoor classroom.Further, DeSmet School has enrolled their middle school practical arts class in Home ReSource’s Zero Waste Ambassador’s Program, where the students will learn about waste reduction, reuse, and will be able to build their own bird houses or pollinator boxes for their school garden. This partnership will enable DeSmet School to make progress on both the Consumption and Waste and Schoolyard Habitats Eco-Schools pathways and will jump start their journey to earning an award for their school.
Clark Fork SchoolClark Fork School, Montana’s first Eco-School, is shifting into high gear as they get closer and closer to the state’s first Green Flag award. To celebrate their Eco-Schools achievements, on March 4th NWF and Clark Fork School will co-host an event for Missoula’s First Friday Gallery Night in NWF’s downtown office (just in time for National Wildlife Week!) where members of the community can see student artwork on display and learn more about Eco-Schools.
As Clark Fork School’s Eco-Action Team is focusing on the Water Sustainability pathway this year, I visited with their students in January to help create watershed-themed artwork for our event. We introduced first grade students to the term “watershed” and even helped them create a papier-mâché model of the local Rattlesnake Creek watershed.
The idea of a watershed may have gone straight over their heads, but they loved visualizing the geography of their neighborhood and working with the “gross oatmeal” or “gross meal”, as they referred to the papier-mâché.In addition to the watershed model, students learned about local wildlife by painting water color native fish, making trout hats, and decorating bird feeders constructed from reused milk cartons. The students will also be developing their school Eco-Code to be displayed at the event.
A multitude of exciting projects are underway in Missoula’s Eco-Schools, and I have plans to bring our resources to even more schools in the spring. Eco-Schools is a great opportunity to provide students with unique and memorable experiences that foster environmental stewardship, develop practical skills, engage them in STEM topics, and connect them to nature. What’s not to love?
If you find yourself in Missoula on the evening of March 4th, stop by our Northern Rockies office to say hi and support your local schools. Maybe you’ll find that Eco-Schools is a great fit for your child’s school too!
About the Author: Juliet Slutzker is an AmeriCorps member serving with the National Wildlife Federation in their Missoula, MT office as the Sustainability and Habitat Educator. She is working on expanding the Eco-Schools USA program in Montana as well as certifying Missoula as Montana’s first Community Wildlife Habitat. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and earned a Master’s degree in Biology in 2015 from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. In her free time, Juliet enjoys exploring the outdoors in her new home of Montana!