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As part of their outdoor school, Ewing Young Elementary School students test local waters

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Joel Thomas, a former Ewing Young Elementary School student who runs outdoor schools, talks stream characteristics with a group of EYES students last week on the campus of George Fox University.

For a portion of the school year, fourth and fifth grade students at Ewing Young Elementary School raise salmon smolts in their classroom. It's a tradition at the school for more than two decades, but teachers recently added another layer to the learning opportunity.

As part of the school's annual outdoor school students have been testing the viability of local waters for salmon runs. They discovered that Hess Creek on the George Fox University campus meets the criteria, so they will release their fish into the waters once they come of age.

The activity drew a lot of buzz from this year's students, according to teachers Rachel Keyser and Terry Evers.

"This year we had several siblings of kids who did it a couple years ago," Keyser said. "At the start of the year all they were talking about was outdoor school. They could not wait because they heard so many great things."

Students have been learning about what it takes for salmon to survive, preparing to test various water bodies around the area. After discovering that Chehalem Creek wasn't viable a couple years back, the students conducted the same tests on Hess Creek and found it to be viable.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - A quartet of Ewing Young Elementary School students test the pH of stream water as part of an outdoor school on the campus of George Fox University.

The various water studies conducted by students included hydrology tests, examinations of water quality and searching for macroinvertebrates. The creek that runs through GFU fit the bill, so now the next steps will be preparing the salmon fry to enter their new home come December.

Ewing Young teachers had some help in this endeavor, Evers said. "We have a former student who runs outdoor schools, Joel Thomas, who is extremely knowledgeable," Evers said. "We work with him to run an outdoor school for the kids every year and it's been really beneficial for the kids."

The program is looking to expand its reach, too. Keyser said the elementary school is looking to form a partnership with local middle schools and even Newberg High School to have the program continue on as kids get older.

NHS biology teacher Peter Siderius has discussed with Keyser, Evers and company about future opportunities. The outdoor school fits right into a district-wide focus on STEM education.

For now, students and teachers are focused on raising the immature salmon to the right age prior to releasing them in Hess Creek, where Keyser said students are hoping for long and prosperous lives for their hundreds of little fish.

"We have a salmon unit that we do that is over a couple months," she said. "We gave them a bit of background knowledge, they learn outside and we build on that. It's really a great experience for the kids and we try and base our learning around a big question that the kids can grapple with throughout the whole unit.

"Our guiding question in this case was what makes a sustainable habitat for salmon and is it available in Newberg? It turns out that's the case and that's really exciting for the kids."

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