For the 2014-2015 academic year, all three Prineville elementary schools will be teaching the 'river keepers' Storyline as a way to bring students, teachers and staff closer together

by: KEVIN SPERL - Crook County School District elementary school principals Cheri Rasmussen, right, Jim Bates and Dave Robinson, second from left, got into Ochoco Creek, along with Ochoco National Forest's Tory Kurtz, to showcase their excitement over the river keeper Storyline theme, to be implemented next school year.

The Crook County Elementary Schools use the Storyline method of teaching as a means to bridge gaps between curriculum and the classrooms within its walls.

For the 2014-2015 academic year, the district will expect bigger and better things of Storyline as it will be broadened to bring together all three elementary schools.

“The district is in a big transition in the upcoming year,” said Jim Bates, principal of Cecil Sly Elementary, alluding to the fact that the new school, Barnes Butte, will open in September of 2015 while Ochoco and Crooked River Elementary will close.

Bates, designated to become the principal of the new elementary school, is leading an already-begun effort aimed at bringing students, teachers and staff together.

“Our upcoming Storyline project is all about creating a comfortable feeling for everyone,” he said. “We are hoping to combine our Storyline work with the topic of the three schools becoming two.”

Having identified “river keepers” as its theme, Bates explained that the district borrowed the idea from Bend’s Highland Magnet School.

“We have some beautiful watersheds in Crook County,” said Bates. “Highland students have become caretakers of the Deschutes River, so we took their storyline map and adapted it to Crook County.”

It is no coincidence that the chosen theme has relevance to the new school, with its classroom pods slated to be named after local watersheds-- Crooked River, Ochoco Creek, Beaver Creek and McKay Creek.

Bates explained that each grade level will concentrate on different areas of study, including animals of the area, various habitats and plants, and the environment and its rivers and creeks.

According to, the teaching method presents problems to students and asks questions rather than providing answers to questions never asked. Storyline draws curriculum’s together using environmental and social subjects as a stimulus to explore; expressive arts and language as a means of discussing, describing and explaining and research and reference skills as a means for searching for answers.

For Bates and the educational community, the work begins this summer.

Through funding from the Crook County Court, a group of national Storyline trainers will come to Prineville in August to train teachers in the implementation of the river keeper theme.

“We are thankful that the County Court is investing in training for our teachers,” said Bates. “We are going to use river keepers to train our staff.”

Elaine Smith and Colleen Vallerga, founders of Highland School, and known as the first school in the U.S. to implement Storyline, will provide the training.

For every Storyline, there is a culminating event, and in 2015, the school’s annual “Fin, Fire and Feather” event will be adapted to the river keeper theme.

“The event will not only bring together the entire elementary school community,” said Bates. “But forestry personnel and watershed groups as well.”

Fin, Fire and Feather has acted as an educational outreach program of the Ochoco National Forest and participating partners have traditionally included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State Parks, Crook County Parks and Recreation, Crook County School District, Crook County Soil and Water Conservation District, Bureau of Land Management and the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forests.

“Every year our students head over to Ochoco Creek Park for environmental studies and activities,” said Bates. “In 2015, there will be nature stations galore, special speakers, and activities depicting the history of our schools.”

Tory Kurtz, rangeland management specialist with the Ochoco National Forest, is looking forward to being a part of the project.

“We are helping to educate the teachers so that they can teach their students,” said Kurtz. “We hope to help in the classroom and on various field trips.”

Kurtz is partnering with the Deschutes Children’s Forest and the Crooked River Watershed Council and is scheduling them to come to Crook County for a day of in-service training, this summer, for teachers regarding watersheds.

“We are all excited to be a part of this,” said Kurtz. “This is a huge symbolic meaning for our students as they go from three schools to two. Each of our schools is touched by Ochoco Creek and everyone involved will be impacted by the school transition.”

Bates agreed that the importance of the river keeper theme goes well beyond academics.

“This is an event for the elementary schools to come together,” he explained. “There will be something for everyone in kindergarten through fifth grade, with them all learning more about our local resources.”

Elementary school principals Cheri Rasmussen and Dave Robinson both agreed that the river keeper theme is a perfect storyline opportunity for all three schools to come together.

“The rivers here are going to be a catalyst for the study of science, social studies, math, reading and writing,” said Robinson.

“Bates added that there are going to be some really exciting things happening to bring the district’s staff and students together.

“The river keepers Storyline will become a large scale event next spring,” he said. “And there is a lot of forward planning on how best to accomplish three schools becoming two.”

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