Third grade students at Steins Pillar join partnership with Delta Waterfowl to create mallard nests for the Crooked River Wetlands

RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - From left: Alex Sackerson and third graders from Conner Lysne's class at Steins Pillar Elementary, Gavin Tomlinson and Noah King construct mallard houses with simple materials. The houses will be places at the Crooked River Wetlands.As the weather becomes more moderate and the sunshine invites young scholars outside, many classes are participating in school projects, while basking in the lambent radiance of a spring day.

Last week, a classroom of third graders were immersed in a project that resulted in the culmination of creating a number of mallard houses. The project was a partnership between Steins Pillar Elementary students, the City of Prineville and Delta Waterfowl.

Delta Waterfowl, which was founded as a research organization, is The Duck Hunters Organization, which is a leading conservation group founded at the famed Delta Marsh in Manitoba, Canada,—with its United States headquarters in Bismarck, North Dakota.

The organization's focus is to increase duck numbers through intensive management programs and the conservation of breeding duck habitat. Part of its mission is to produce ducks and secure the future of waterfowl hunting.

The organization reached out to the City of Prineville and indicated that they would like to partner with some students to add some mallard houses out at the Crooked River Wetlands on Rimrock Acres Loop, just outside of Prineville. The group extended the invitation to City of Prineville Engineer Eric Klann, who then passed on the request to his wife, Sarah Klann, who is the academic coach for Steins Pillar Elementary.

She reached out to Steins Pillar teachers, and Connor Lysne, third grade instructor, immediately replied that he would like to do the project with his students. Lysne created the spring quest around the project for his third graders. The premise of the quest is about "making the community a better place." This is also the mission of Steins Pillar Elementary.

"We were more than happy to take them up on the opportunity, because we are community helpers for this quest, and we talked about how nature is a big part of our community, and we want to do what we can to preserve it," Lysne commented of their response to the offer of working with Delta Waterfowl.

He added that his students were very excited about the quest project.

"They love helping the community. On Earth Day, last week we went out, and we picked up the playground, and they loved doing that, too," he said.

Steins Pillar uses modern elements in the curriculum that feature such ideas as quest time, or the expansion of storylines. The local elementary schools have utilized storyline curriculums for the past few years, but at Stein Pillar, they will spend at least twice as much time on them. When using a quest-based model, students create solutions to real-world challenges, collaborate with experts and local community members, and sometimes, their quest takes them off-campus.

On a warm afternoon in late April, Lysne's students attended a presentation by the staff from Delta Waterfowl and City of Prineville to learn about the mallard nests and how to build their own, using simple materials. After completing the nests, they will soon be placed at Crooked River Wetlands and Sunriver.

"Experiential learning is the heart of Steins Pillar Elementary. In a dream situation, we would love to have our students visit the wetlands to see the nesting boxes placed in their new home. During the era of COVID, however, this may not happen," noted Klann.

The long-standing partnership with the City of Prineville and CCSD schools provides valuable opportunities for students and teachers to connect with outside organizations. Klann elaborated that projects such as this one are a clear example of building connections with organizations like Delta Waterfowl. The school district also has a continuous partnership with Deschutes Land Trust and their efforts to develop monarch butterfly waystations.

Lysne is in his second year of his teaching career. His first year was spent at Barnes Butte Elementary. In his bio on the Crook County School District website, Lysne wrote, "Next year at Steins Pillar, I hope to create an environment where students see the connections between what we learn in the classroom and the real world. I want to create a place where creativity, adventure and learning are all fused together."

With his background in 3-D wood carving and jewelry making, his class conducted their initial kick-off for the quest, which included the class receiving a 3-D printer from an anonymous donor.

"The only caveat being they create things that help make Steins Pillar and the City of Prineville--our community better," commented Klann. "They have been learning about 3-D printing and thinking about designing various projects to support our school."

Lysne added that they are looking for ways to make their school and community a better place by using the 3-D printer. They did a share-and-tell presentation at the Steins Pillar gym to visitors recently. The students also built 3-D models of a printer to explain all the parts in their presentation.

The students also designed some tokens, which include the creations with each students' initials. They plan to hide them on the playground, with the hopes of their peers finding the token.

"Once they do, they see the initials, and they will look to meet the person who created that and build a friendship or a connection with a fellow Steins Pillar student," added Klann. "Connection and community are the heart of our efforts here at Steins Pillar, both inside and outside of our school building."

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