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The group's ambitious plan seeks to implement major changes across the school district

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Aided by teacher Peter Siderius and Newberg High School graduate Quentin Comus, local students have developed and drafted an extensive proposal to expand environmental education in Newberg.

Aided by teacher Peter Siderius and Newberg High School graduate Quentin Comus, local students have developed and drafted an extensive proposal to expand environmental education in Newberg.

Comus took the various ideas articulated by his fellow students and put together a 60-page draft proposal that he and Siderius plan to work with the district on implementing.

After seeing students make a clear difference in the community last school year, the Newberg School District took notice of the student-led Chehalem Valley Watershed Project (CVWP) and approached Comus and Siderius about developing a district-wide environmental education plan.

"As we went through last year and started doing projects, gaining support from the community and receiving grant monies, both the high school and Superintendent Joe Morelock were interested in formalizing the program," Comus said. "As we got bigger grants, they realized our scope could be much larger and we could provide this program to students at all levels."

CVWP's proposal has nine main points that include hiring staff, developing a nonprofit board comprised of community members for the CVWP, partnering with local community organizations and more.

It is an ambitious and significant plan to reshape the way students throughout the district learn about and interact with the environment.

"It's a six-year plan with different phases and different revenue sources," Comus said. "We really want to focus on making it community-based, so we want stakeholders in the community and the district to come together and work through the process."

The first of the proposal's main points encourages the re-establishment of an agriculture teacher at the high school – a position that was eliminated in recent years due to budget cuts.

Working closely with that teacher would be a coordinator hired at the district level who would oversee the environmental education program, implement curriculum, write grants and develop community partnerships.

Curriculum district-wide would include more outdoor learning opportunities, Comus said, along with an increase in research opportunities and project-based learning.

The goal is to create a uniform curriculum across the district that keeps kids involved in environmental learning from the elementary level on up through high school.

Another important segment of the plan is creating more professional and post-secondary opportunities for students, which could lead directly into partnerships with community organizations in Newberg and the surrounding area.

"We're looking at working with vineyards, the forest industry, aviation experts and others," Comus said. "We hope to create a viticulture class, computer cartography classes and revamp the high school's CTE (Career and Technical Education) program to better align with what local industries need. We're looking at internships and job creation in and around the community."

CVWP also plans to create an advisory board comprised of people from industries or organizations that would benefit from the program. This includes stakeholders from the forest and viticulture industries, local government officials, ecological organizations, students and staff.

A primary point of the proposal is to provide these stakeholders with the tools to help sustain the CVWP program and its district-wide educational approach.

Students from around the district who are involved in this program could function as cheap labor, interns or even future employees should they build lasting connections with local businesses and organizations.

The school district would not bear the responsibility of implementing much of what CVWP is proposing, Comus said. Much of the work would lie with students and the advisory board as the district gathers resources for hiring new positions, works on implementing new curriculum and carves the path forward.

However, a good portion of the proposal provides the district with goals it can set. Comus said CVWP's proposal encourages the district to "promote the understanding of the Earth and its processes and adopt a general focus on environmental education that adheres to a specific vocabulary."

The proposal also provides a long-term pitch to the district to transition all of its school facilities into zero-waste, 100-percent sustainable buildings. That includes embracing sustainable energy sources for the schools and eliminating single-use plastics in lunchrooms, among other changes.

In all, the education plan formulated by Comus and his classmates – with Siderius's guidance – is an example of students taking their future education into their own hands, sowing the seeds that will be reaped by the next generation of Newberg students.

Before he heads off to Oregon State University, Comus plans to meet with Morelock and the district in the coming weeks and return to Newberg later on to bring the proposal before the school board. He said the final document will serve as a roadmap for the district once ratified and will be the culmination of his and his classmates' work.

"A lot of this is coming out of the students," Comus said. "Working with Peter (Siderius), we had several high school students draft much of the content and I beefed it up this summer with some extra research and depth. It's for students, by students, which I think is a really cool opportunity."

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