Expanded, student-driven 'field studies' this month include day-trip to Camp Wilkerson

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Lucas Carlson (left) and Maggie Lewno (right) with their advanced natural resources teacher at St. Helens High School, Amber Horn. Carlson and Lewno are among the advanced students who have been working with Horn this year to put on field studies for seventh-grade students at St. Helens Middle School.Due to budget constraints, this school year was the first in several years that sixth-grade classes in the St. Helens School District were able to go to Outdoor School, getting valuable science and leadership experience while spending several days in the woods of northwest Oregon.

But next week, students in Amber Horn’s advanced natural resources class at St. Helens High School are giving this year’s seventh-graders an opportunity to catch up on what they missed out on last year.

Seniors Lucas Carlson, Jamie Gustafson and Maggie Lewno have spearheaded the effort to provide two days of “field studies” for the seventh grade, intended to make up for the Outdoor School experience they didn’t have.

“[We] searched all the stuff we needed, found out the total price and pretty much wrote the grant,” Carlson said, with help from Horn and seventh-grade science teacher Alison Charbonneau.

Horn said the students brought in about $8,700 in grant funding through the Gray Family Foundation, which supports Outdoor School in Oregon. The field studies are also getting support from other groups, including the Oregon Forest Resources Institute and the Columbia River Youth Corps.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ALISON CHARBONNEAU - Field studies put students in a natural setting and give them an opportunity to learn in a hands-on way about subjects like native plants, salmon habitats, water quality, wetland restoration and forestry management.Seventh-grade students will spend next Thursday, April 23, at McCormick Park and the wetlands by St. Helens Middle School, and Friday, April 24, at Camp Wilkerson, which Horn said is providing the space free of charge. Due to the parameters of the grant program, they will not be overnighting, unlike typical Outdoor School.

“That makes it a lot easier,” Horn laughed.

For the past several years, the natural resources class at the high school has been working with seventh-graders at the middle school on occasional wetland field studies, according to Charbonneau. This year, that collaboration will include the trip to Camp Wilkerson.

“We’re making it kind of a bigger, more expanded field trip than we have in the past,” Charbonneau said.

Most of Horn’s natural resources students will be helping out with the field studies this year, along with several staff members and volunteers, the teachers said.

Charbonneau said organizing the field studies is not something she could do on her own.

Besides, she added, “It’s a lot more fun to get the older kids together with the younger kids, let them be mentors.”

The seventh-graders will learn about forestry management, native plants, soils and water quality, among other subjects.

“We’re giving them a bunch of different outdoor activities,” said Lewno.

For Lewno, the project has a personal component. Her brother Gage is in the seventh grade at St. Helens Middle.

“He was pretty bummed when they didn’t get to do [Outdoor School] last year,” she said.

Chris Kienle, another science teacher at the middle school, said his students are looking forward to the trip next week.

“They’re super-excited,” he said.

Both Lewno and Carlson are making the field studies their advanced natural resources capstone, as well as their senior project.

Lewno wants to become a teacher after she graduates. She plans to attend Portland State University and major in education.

Carlson said he wants to major in computer sciences, but he said he is interested in native plants and wildlife.

“I’ve always enjoyed Mrs. Horn’s science classes, because they’ve always been very person-to-person, so to speak,” Carlson added. “You get to spend a lot of time with other people. You aren’t just sitting in class, learning. You actually get out and apply what you’ve learned to the real world.”

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