The Catlin Gabel School community gathered in February, to plant over 600 native trees and shrubs in just a 2,000-square-foot space, creating Oregon's first "tiny forest."
Students from preschool to 12th grade, along with teachers and community members, filled a roughly 100-by-20-foot space with 46 species of native plants on the school's campus on Southwest Barnes Road, just outside of Beaverton.
Patrick Walsh introduced the idea to his high school globalization class after hearing about the tiny forest movement going from Japan to India, then Europe, on a BBC podcast. Walsh and his seniors, who have since graduated, wrote a proposal to the school and spearheaded the project.
Walsh and his students also worked to get a $5,000 Planet Stewards Grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.
They received the grant in June 2021, and by the fall, the project became a school-wide effort. Students in Catlin Gabel's Sustainability Team came on board, and a science teacher advised on native plants.
Class returned to in-person learning this year, so the school started preparing the site. The grounds crew plowed the soil, and students from grades six through 12 worked to break up the soil and work with compost. First-graders painted signs to identify the 46 species that were planted, and the school's new seniors took the lead.
"It's really fantastic and exciting to be a part of something that you can just watch grow over time," said Sophia Mauro, a senior at Catlin Gabel. "And these first-graders that we're working with now, they'll grow up and go through the school and see the tiny forest grow."
Senior Megan Cover said she has been at the school since she was in the first grade herself. During her first year, her class partnered with seniors to plant trees near the playground.
"Those trees grew up basically with me. So, it's kind of like Sophia's idea, where we're creating this hopeful, educational space for a lot of young kids," Cover said. "And that's really exciting to be a part of."
The tiny forest is based around sustainability, Walsh said. It captures carbon dioxide — up to 281 pounds every year on average — and attracts native animals and insects to the area.
It can also be called a Miyawaki forest — invented by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki — because tiny forests use his methods of planting.
"It's meant to be a place of biodiversity," Walsh said, "but for me, it's also a place of community, and hoping that it will be a place that people come back and visit as time goes by."
Mauro said she wants to study climate science in college, and she's even creating a documentary about the tiny forest for her senior project. She said it's been fun to do something now that gives her a preview of what she wants to do later in life.
Cover said the tiny forest will obviously not solve climate change, but connecting the community to the environment is a good start.
"I think it helps to keep people thinking about climate change, thinking about the nature that surrounds them," Megan said. "And it also kind of holds the school accountable to take more action against climate change."
In the proposal for the NOAA grant, Walsh and last year's seniors wrote: "The gravity of the impending climate crisis is undeniable, and it is our duty to help the environment in any way we can. We hope that our tiny forest can work towards this goal because all actions matter."
The grant money will go toward other supplies related to the tiny forest, too. The school will buy tools to measure air quality, carbon dioxide monitors and soil test kits.
"It's not very sexy stuff, right? But one of the big uses of this is in our science curriculum, all the way through (from preschool to 12th grade)," Walsh said.
Even though the seniors will graduate after working on the project, it gives them a change to reflect on their time at the school. Plus, it'll be a happy ending to what was a tough high school experience because of the pandemic.
"Everything feels so upbeat about this, which is really a nice change," Walsh said before the planting day. "It'll be really cool to see representatives of the whole school community in the same place at the same time."
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