Nature Space Award: Whitson’s Schoolyard Habitat Program

Principal Todd McCauley, Cheri Anderson, Jeanette Burkhart, and Jennifer Rowlen

Whitson Elementary’s Schoolyard Habitat program in partnership with Columbia River Gorge National Fish Hatchery (NFH), and Yakama Nation Fisheries (YNF) received Envirogorge’s Nature Space Award on May 14 2015.

The gardens have grown to include projects for all grade levels. Kindergarten students maintain a worm-composting bin, fed with lunch scraps, the result goes to nourish the first grader’s veggie garden. These students get hands-on experiences of watching veggies grow, adding to their seed science curriculum. Second graders use the native pollinator garden to get up close and personal with bugs in during their insect unit. In partnership with Yakama Nation Fisheries, third grade students use the ethnobotany garden to learn about culturally important plants for the native tribes.

Tall grasses, and wild looking bushes make up the native pollinator garden, based off the native bunch grass prairie that would naturally be present. It has been an educational experience for many to see a native planting instead of more traditional manicured area. This is all part of the plan according to Burkhart, “part of the hope is that we change people’s concept of landscape aesthetics. What some people call messy we call diversity.”

Principal Todd McCauley is a strong supporter of the endeavor “I love it. I see tremendous value in the educational link it creates from what the students are learning to the real world.”

untitled-0901Jurgen Hess

The addition of portable classrooms gave the partnership an opportunity to expand the native plantings around the structures and the city pool next door. Principal McCauley emphasizes the fact the gardens don’t require any watering, a way to make students more aware of water usage especially this year when the snow pack is at one of the lowest levels on record.

Cheri Anderson and Jennifer Rowlen of NFH, and Jeanette Burkhart of YNF, started native plant gardens at Whitson Elementary in White Salmon, Washington through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife “Connecting People with Nature” initiative. Since 2007 they’ve worked tirelessly at that for the past eight years—along with Whitson’s teachers, staff, and community volunteers.

The project is a labor of love from all involved. While the PTO and FWS provided much of the initial funding, Principal McCauley is quick to add, “the number of hours these guys have voluntarily put in is incalculable.” They rely on help maintaining the gardens from Columbia High School students, the Native Plant Society and Master Gardeners who visit a few times a year.

If you are interested in helping with the Schoolyard Habitat project Contact Cheri Anderson. 509-493-2934 or email

By | 2016-12-13T01:59:32+00:00 May 19th, 2015|Categories: Nature Space Award, News|Tags: , |0 Comments

About the Author:

Emily Kao, Associate Editor. After graduating from Carleton College with a degree in Environmental Studies Emily returned to Hood River and spent the next few years working for various non-profits in the area. She lives in a Tiny House she built with her partner where they enjoy cooking, crafting, and taking advantage of the recreational opportunities of the Columbia River Gorge.

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