Posted by admin on January 14, 2020
By Erica Terence
Sometimes I worry about my social life. I work all day in a run-down old grocery store from my youth, jump around with my co-workers and community members for exercise in that same building after work, and for fun in the evenings I go to events with my co-workers, friends and neighbors under the same roof. I’m often here on weekends too, for a workshop in using native plants to make holiday wreaths, or a training on collecting and saving seeds from the garden.
In a town of little more than 700 people a few hours drive inland from the coast and just south of the California-Oregon border, with neighboring communities also so small you miss them on the highway if you blink. It is no wonder so much life revolves around this former grocery store. The non-profit organization I work for, the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC), bought this building in 2010, when it outgrew its previous office spaces of a founder’s barn and then a Forest Service trailer. We’ve been working to fix it up ever since, to help it live its best life. At the end of this blog, I will ask you to make a donation at www.mkwc.org/donate to help us finish the job. First, a few hundred more words about the building’s impact on our lives.
Above: A Third Thursday event in the Panamnik Building backyard.
Now, the building serves not only as a watershed restoration headquarters for our organization as we build a restoration economy in these small towns where we work, but also as a desperately needed gathering space for our local communities. In such a remote place, the building provides vital services in a place that would otherwise receive little to no help from the outside world. It’s a place where people can come together to plan and do good, on the ground work for fish, plants, wildlife, and local people. It’s the home of our local post office, so it’s also a place where people pass through daily to pick up their mail, browse the bulletin board outside, and see what’s happening. Most importantly, it’s a place that helps us learn who else lives here and how to care for each other by caring for the land together.
Early in the morning, crews load vehicles with gear before heading out into the field to restore fish habitat, pull invasive plants and collect native plant seeds, reintroduce fire on the landscape in the right places at the right times of year, and involve young people and volunteers in hands-on watershed restoration. Office staff filter in, each with their own small role in the big production to restore this place we call home and renovate the funky old building and riverfront land that houses us.
While we work in tight spaces, sometimes without windows and always without quiet or privacy, a meeting with partners to coordinate a watershed restoration project often unfolds in the cavernous big room outside our cramped offices. Waders often hang over banisters, drying between uses to count salmon in our streams. A tourist or local person might stop in to use the phone, the bathroom, or browse our watershed interpretive center by the building’s front door. Sometimes someone is looking for something as simple as a cup of coffee or directions.
On many days, parking in front of the “downtown” Orleans building is limited to make space for County and Tribal services trailers ranging from a bookmobile to public health resources, to fresh produce and commodities for local populations who are located at least an hour away from grocery stores and don’t earn big salaries. On Fridays, we share our space with families attending a playgroup for kids under age five, accepting a less tranquil work environment in trade for endearing disruptions from the next generation who spend a formative part of their youth running around here. Parents report that the playgroup doesn’t just benefit their kids – it also allows them to compare notes and feel less alone in their parenting struggles in such a geographically isolated location.
Every third Thursday of the month, the building transforms into a restaurant in a town where there otherwise is none. People come out from the woodwork to visit with fellow river dwellers, enjoy a meal cooked for them, and swap stories. These dinners always benefit a good cause, whether it’s MKWC or a local school or volunteer fire department.
Above: A community event inside the Panamnik Building.
Sure, we all live a lot of our lives here, but at least this building has brought some much-needed fresh life to this town. Now it’s time to complete its transformation. This means moving and modernizing our offices so we can fully redo the community space and make it available to the community 100 percent of the time. It means installing separate front and back doors for community center users to come and go from, and adding an energy efficient heating and cooling system to help this place operate through temperature extremes. It means improving the drainage in the backyard along the banks of the Klamath River. It means creating a parking system that maximizes building access and use. Once we’ve taken these steps, we’ll be ready to overhaul the kitchen and bathrooms, put large windows along the back wall of the building that look straight through to the river we work to restore, upgrade our lighting, acoustics, and electrical systems. We’ll also build new walls, ceilings and floors throughout the building.
It’s a big undertaking, and we wouldn’t have come so far without the financial support of people like you. With your help we bought the building, demolished the grocery store remnants, fixed heaters and toilets and pipes and wires and the roof and floor as they broke. With your help we rallied a team of local folks to use mushrooms to clean up soil contamination from diesel spills in the backyard. With your help we cleared a backyard amphitheater space, and built a new equipment storage shed for all the stuff that we use to implement projects, monitor projects, and involve young people in watershed restoration.
Now we’re tackling the third and final phase of renovations and we come to you again asking for help. Please think big as you invest in this vision of a place for people who love this place that will last for generations. Please give as generously as you can at www.mkwc.org/donate, and indicate that your donation is for the Panamnik Building.
Thank you for helping us to make these changes last. Our most renewable resource is people who understand that our resources are not infinite, people like those you find here on the unincorporated border of Humboldt and Siskiyou Counties working together to restore what we have.
Erica Terence is the MKWC Development Director, born and raised in the Klamath watershed.
Posted by admin on November 28, 2017
by Nancy Bailey
According to Merriam Webster, one of the definitions of a wall is “an extreme or desperate position or a state of defeat, failure, or ruin.” As in the phrase “up against the wall”
I’m sorry to say I feel that this moment in human and planetary history has us pretty clearly up against the wall. I wonder if this condition is actually a result of all the walls we build. Lately all the talk about building more of them and the divisive rhetoric we hear that pushes people apart, I feel it is an important time to speak out against them. There are so many kinds of walls and I have to say I don’t see much good coming out of any of them.
Unthinking we have built dams in rivers, walling off hundreds of miles of critical habitat for fish and interrupting what should be a dynamic process of fluctuating flows and habitat renewal.
Without full understanding of impacts, we have built highways which wall off and inhibit wildlife from their migration routes. And we have built hundreds of miles of forest roads that result in landslides and sedimentation in the streams effectively also walling off habitat.
We have suppressed wildfire, causing unhealthy and choked forests; walls to the free flow of wildlife and impediments to ecosystem health, which is built on movement and interchange.
Even our attitudes can be walls. We have accepted and promoted cultural and psychological walls between ourselves and nature, believing ourselves superior and in control, allowing for rampant disrespect of the natural world and its processes. Even as we have willingly embraced attitudes of separation from nature, we have fallen prey to historic themes of separation between ourselves and the other, fearing what or who we don’t understand.
Rather than building more walls, now is the time to take them down, one at a time.
When people ask about my work with MKWC, I say we are in the business of “restoration”. Restoring the Klamath salmon populations, restoring fire to its rightful place in the landscape, restoring native biodiversity in the plant and animal world in the face of threatening invasive species, restoring forest and river and community health and wholeness. These objectives are for the most part about breaking down walls. Restoration is about connectivity; allowing the natural world to resume its dynamic momentum toward balance and flow.
From rivers to forests, walls must come down. First the Elwha dam in Washington and soon the Klamath dams will go. Eventually many others will be deconstructed, as the outcomes of these early dam removals model and demonstrate the huge benefits to entire ecosystems. Everywhere damaging roads are being decommissioned and put to bed, their benefits having expired in light of their long term negative impacts. Restoration projects of so many types are being implemented here in the Klamath and elsewhere, it is hopeful.
Right now, shortly after the annual Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX), I feel particularly hopeful about fire. We are coming to understand and accept that wildfire management rather than full suppression will help return the process of natural fire to the landscape. We are embracing controlled fire as an important tool as we try to catch up with the deficit created by the hundred years of fire suppression. Fire is coming back, whether we want it or not. It is not an easy task, breaking down a lifetime of prejudice against fire. We are challenged but we can learn. Eventually our forests, rivers, and communities have the chance to recapture their resilience and compatibility with fire.
I believe we are on the right track. I see how groups like MKWC and so many others are working hard to find common ground with neighbors and stakeholders, to work together toward mutual goals of ecosystem and community health and renewal. Communities, states and nations, even our cultural psyche can heal from long histories of fearful wall building between groups of people and between humans and nature.
Certainly, the state of the world including our Klamath watershed demands of us to join together to take down the walls. Can we please refrain from building new ones?
Nancy Bailey is Co-Director of the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC) Fire and Fuels Program and a long-time resident and steward of the Middle Klamath subbasin.
Posted by admin on August 3, 2017
by Will Harling
This past spring, a contingent of fish habitat restorationists from around the Klamath River went up to Washington State to learn from four decades of salmon habitat restoration on the Olympic Peninsula and around the Puget Sound. We were hosted by Larry Lestelle from Biostream and Rocky Rocovich and Tim Abbe from Natural Systems Design, Inc. Bill Armstrong from the Quinault Tribal Fisheries Program and Mike McHenry from the Lower Elwha Tribal Fisheries Program added a lot to the first two days of the tour. So much learning took place that it's hard to capture, but we wanted to share through photos some of the amazing projects they have going and the lessons learned from them in this post. Partial funding for this tour came from the National Forest Foundation.
Our first stop on the Quinault River above Quinault Lake where the river was threatening a bunch of homes. A series of log jams and meander jams was pushing the huge river back across the floodplain to river right and making some great fish habitat at the same time.
An impressive array of engineered log jams on the Quinault River. These lathed log piers are driven 30-40 feet into the substrate to prevent pier scour. These streams on the peninsula were mostly glacially carved, with deep alluvium.
Larry Lestelle holding court, telling stories from the early days of coho life history construction, and subsequently coho habitat construction to meet specific life history needs. We have followed this model in the Klamath, first on Seiad Creek and the lower Klamath tribs like Hunter Creek, and now in Horse Creek, and the Scott Valley, with great success. But as Tim Abbe points out, this is not fixing stream process, just halting the trend towards extinction. We need to allow streams to reconnect to floodplains where they can so they can form habitats like this on their own. In the meantime, we'll keep building ponds.
Paradise Pond, one of the original off channel ponds constructed by Jeff Cederholm and Phil Peterson in the early ages of off channel pond construction 30+ years ago. What these guys hit upon was that it is habitat quality , and not quanitity, that depressed fish runs need to recover. If there is not off channel habitat in a stream system, juvenile coho have no where to go in high winter flows and they die. By sprinkling habitats like this throughout a system, you can rapidly reverse the trend toward extinction for coho salmon. This site keyed into a seep coming out of the mountain. They used dynamite to blast some deep holes out of the wetland then built a dam out of rock by hand to impound the water with a cheesy wood fish ladder. It was wildly successful but degraded quickly. Later the channel was re-contoured with an excavator with a meander to lower the gradient and increase fish access.
These jams still allow fish passage by having a tighter weave for the base and loose construction for the upper half. Logs are placed in an upstream facing chevron pattern that uses the stream force to lock them into place. Toz looks like he's getting some ideas for some streams back home.....
Bill Armstrong explains how the jams were constructed, while standing on three feet of new deposition on the recently connected floodplain.
Last year's high water scoured around the rootwad of this anchored wood, forming a sweet pool and bringing gravel into the channel from the banks.
Hurst Creek, a trib to the Clearwater on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, was severely incised from a century of industrial logging. The creek itself was the original haul route, causing it to down-cut over 10 feet. Bill Armstrong told a chilling tale of three generations of loggers who told three different tales of this stream. The grandfather remembered it was full of salmon as a child but that the logging didn't kill the runs. The father remembers a few fish in the river that weren't affected by all the wood they removed to keep it from getting out of it's channel. The grandson doesn't remember seeing a fish in the creek. This aggressive wood loading project has reconnected the floodplain in only a couple years. Obviously not right for every stream, but already gravels are sorting, pools are forming, cover has increased many times over.... This is actually a picture looking upstream at three discrete channel spanning jams with 80-150 foot pools between them.
It can, and will, be done (just as they did here in the Elwha)! Klamath River 2020!!!!
Mike McHenry, a lifelong champion of fish habitat restoration on the Elwha, gave an amazing tour of his home river. So humbled by the quality of the tour and the knowledge of all the presenters.
I was not prepared for the incredible feeling of elation and gratitude and awe that came over me seeing a whole river system set free of dams after a century of plunder. The river is healing itself with incredible speed. Already five species of salmon have been found above this upper dam site. They estimate about 2/3rds of the sediment has gone downstream. During dam removal, they used an excavator on a barge with a jackhammer head to take it down slowly, then every now and again, they blew out a large chunk to make a pulse flow and create flood terraces upstream (visible in this picture).
Glorified rip rap with a high price tag. This structure near the end of the road heading up the Elwha (just downstream of the old Glines Canyon Dam site) protects the road but does little for fish habitat.
Toz Soto getting excited about dam removal!
Upper end of the old Elwha Dam reservoir. You can get an idea of the amount of natural wood in the system here.
Mitzi George Wickman giving scale to the stump of an old riparian Western Red Cedar at the upper extent of the Elwha Dam (RIP) reservoir. Extensive tree planting and invasive weed removal is ongoing in this newly exposed river channel.
A fish biologist that works with the Lower Elwha Tribe monitoring fish runs in the Elwha describes the fisheries benefits of these engineered log jams (ELJ's). They use horizontal projecting sonic cameras to count fish across a large channel just below this site.
This constriction caused by ELJ's (engineered log jam's) on either side of the channel were used frequently to push the river up onto the floodplain, as its doing here on river right. Cost for these structures is about $70,000 a piece. I came away thinking we need to spend about 10x our current annual restoration budget on the Klamath to actually restore the river processes they are restoring on these rivers.
Beaver lodge built into the side of a log jam on the Elwha River about five miles up from the estuary.
Clear Creek on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula was an example of a fish habitat restoration project that also solved a transportation issue. Every year a major street just downstream would flood due to poor water storage and drainage. By reconnecting the floodplain and establishing multiple channels, NSD has kept the road from flooding for the past three years.
Sediment from the Elwha dam removal effort not only restored the delta at the mouth, it also reconnected far reaching backwater areas in the larger floodplain that hadn't been connected in decades. This is paradise for rearing juveniles preparing to head out into the ocean.
After two days exploring the wild rivers of the Olympic Peninsula, we took the ferry across to Seattle and civilization. Before you die, go to Ray's Boat House restaurant. I did an animated retelling of Uncle Billy's Bigfoot Hunting mishap story so the Washingtonians got a taste of who they were dealing with.... — with Sarah Bee, Rocco Fiori and Charles Wickman.
Historically the main channel flowed on the right side of the South Fork Nooksack behind that large log jam where a slack water pool has now formed. The log jam on the left has racked a bunch of wood and subsequently a bunch of spawning gravel upstream that has become a hotspot for spawning salmon. This section of the channel has aggraded over seven feet in four years and connected a two-mile-long side channel or river right above the large log jam.
Tim Abbe describes how the log trianges are stabilized by boulder and cable "dingleberries" (two boulders with glued in cable connecting them over top of the logs to keep them hinged on pounded log piers. Charlesand Mitzi are standing on top of a buried boulder and you can see the cable insertion behind Tim's feet.
All for one, one for all! Charles Wickman gets a lift from Toz Soto and Larry Lestelle with help from Rocco Fiori and Tim Abbe across a side channel of the SF Nooksack! Mitzi just walked across in her Levis.....
Joey Howard from Cascade Stream Solutions, Rocky Rocovich with Natural Systems Design and Rocco Fiori with Fiori GeoSciences, have an engineers huddle at an impressive channel spanning wood structure on the SF Nooksack. Two engineered log jams on either side are connected by grade controlling log triangles (underwater in this pic) stabilized by boulders with cable saddling the logs and short log piers to hold them in place. In a very short amount of time (less than five years) these structures have aggraded this downcutting section and reconnected a huge floodplain. These structures have possible application in the Klamath mainstem above Happy Camp and in the Salmon River in unconstrained channel reaches.
Toz Soto, Tim Abbe, Nooksack Tribal Fish Biologist, Rocky Rocovich, and Mitzi Wickman on a pile jam on the South Fork Nooksack River. The weather was crappy the whole time but we were electric with inspired fish talk. These jams rack mobile wood, and cost a lot less than jams that use off site wood. This was the jam that was causing the side channel that Mitzi log tight roped across.
South Fork Nooksack River showing the difference between rip rap (left) and large wood meander jam (right). We are currently facing issues with Siskiyou County Public Works Department with our Seiad Creek stream restoration project because they believe wood bank stabilization projects will rot and fail. The wood gives a chance for trees to grow and becomes the bank stabilization agent. Hopefully these projects will help inform our efforts down here to restore streams that function for fish as well as people.
South Fork Nooksack River: Mitzi Wickman uses a beaver felled log to cross a new floodplain braid caused by an engineered log jam upstream that activated a 40 acre floodplain. The beavers were going crazy!
South Fork Nooksack River showing the use of large wood instead of rock rip rap for bank stabilization. It's hard to see in this picture, but the logs are extended out into the river to provide instream cover.
Urban stream renewal at work. Everything in this stream is constructed after contaminated dirt was removed. The off channel pond on creek right is fed by hyporheic flow through strategically placed gravels.
Example of a meander jam on an urban stream (Thornton Creek) just north of Seattle on a system impacted by the first (if not the largest) mall in America (Northgate Mall). Logs were placed at variable depths and prowed out over the water to create instream cover. The largest fish of the tour, what I took as a steelhead was spotted testing a redd just downstream.
Small urban stream restoration further up Thornton Creek after a 10,000 gallon petroleum spill upstream (below the mall....). This was a high dollar project meant to monitor the ability of deep gravel lenses inoculated with beneficial algae to treat contaminated water over time. Extensive monitoring showed water quality at variable depths. They had created these gravel cylinders that could be pulled out of tubes to provide consistent samples of macroinvertebrate populations. Log pour-overs were co-located with gravel to force the water subsurface where more cleaning could take place. Larry Lestelle grew up fishing this creek before it got trashed. I found a kid size fishing bobber in an eddy....the magic is happening again! These projects may not have the hugest effect on the fishery, but they bring restoration to the masses, and they are beloved by nearby residents and schools.
Will Harling serves as Director of the Mid Klamath Watershed Council. Born and raised in the Middle Klamath, Will brings a lifetime of local knowledge and a love for this place to the work of watershed restoration.
Posted by admin on June 21, 2017
by Ramona Taylor
I’ve just finished up another great field trip to the garden and I’m standing on the tailgate of a pick-up truck documenting and counting everything I can: how many students, adults, volunteers, women, and veterans? I snap a few more quick pictures, trying to get just one more picture-hoping for that perfect one that captures the moment and can show our funders we’re doing a good job. After five years of helping to host fieldtrips, workshops, and events, I’ve learned to take a moment to bask in the sun, to reflect and enjoy.
Here, Mikaila Polmateer does her own basking, taking pride in a carrot she helped to grow at Junction Elementary School.
I take off my “reporting hat” to watch as the gaggle of students and teachers are walking back to the school. Two students break off from the group at a run in the opposite direction…five years ago, I may have reacted differently, trying to make sure everyone was “doing what they were supposed to,” but instead, I casually ask the boys where they are going. As they rush by, over his shoulder, one boy yells, “We’re going to get moooorreeere kaaaaaale!” Sure enough, they ran back to the garden, picked some kale and were happily munching it as they rejoined the group and headed back to their classroom. Apparently, contrary to popular belief, some kids do like kale!
In that moment, feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside, I jumped down from the pickup truck and I know we have made a difference. We’re not just making a difference because now we have a community apple press and a whole array of tools, equipment and infrastructure to grow, gather, process and store food. We have made a difference because the way we think about food and they way we relate to food and to each other has changed.
This month our community will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Orleans Bridge and over the next few months, the MKWC Community Foodsheds program is winding down a five year food security grant, “Enhancing Tribal Health and Food Security in the Klamath Basin of Oregon And California by Building a Sustainable Regional Food System.” The project, also known as the Klamath Basin Tribal Food Security Project, is a collaboration with the Karuk, Yurok and Klamath Basin Tribes, UC Berkeley, UC Extension and endless community partners including schools, other non-profits and volunteers.
Local school kids evaluate their school garden harvest, comparing carrots from Year Two to carrots grown in Year Five.
For evaluation purposes, the questions we answer are: “Did we make a difference, have things changed, are we more food secure or independent?” At first glance, I really don’t know. I can’t help but draw the comparison of the of the food security project with the Orleans bridge building. When a bridge is complete, you have a tangible result. It can be counted and as long as it provides a way to cross from one side of the river to the other, it is deemed a success. But really, what you get is the connection between two sides of the river, two opposite sides of community that are now connected. However, funders & Congress like to see the numbers & count the bridges.
So to be accountable, we count and take pictures. I think we’ve done a good job at documenting the numbers, but I think our success is more intangible. It has been about building bridges. Clearly not the kind that cross the Klamath, but bridges that connect the communities up and down the river corridor. We’ve created networks and discovered who some of the movers and shakers are (around food) in each community. Our pictures capture not just what we can count at the time, but the change over time and the bridges we’ve built. Children in those early photos have graduated and moved into high school! School gardens have expanded, or been installed, and grown food that students eat in their lunches (or snack on during trips to the garden). Heirloom fruit trees nearing the end of their life span have not only been saved from likely extinction, but the oral histories of the varieties have been written down for future generations and in some cases, returned to the families that planted them long ago. We also have a community fruit press that families borrow in the summer and fall. I love that people stop to talk to our staff about what to do with all these extra eggs/fruit/veggies or how to establish a new bee hive or how do I [insert food or garden topic here]?
We are not just counting the infrastructure changes and the attendees. We are building bridges that connect people to place and people to people. We are developing relationships and sharing knowledge in a hands-on, peer-to-peer setting that will last far beyond the “scope and five year time frame” of the funded project.
With our food security funding winding down, people have approached me, concerned and wondering what will happen to the MKWC Community Foodsheds Program when the funding runs out? I am happy to say I don’t really know. It seems like there is so much going on around food these days!
Locals participate in a workshop in Orleans demonstrating how to build your own chicken tractor!
I believe the community will choose. It doesn’t have to be what was written into a funding proposal. It can be whatever, we as a community, choose to make it. Even without all the numbers to back me up, I know that our community has changed. We can literally count our blessings and under the funding, we have purchased some of the equipment we need to gather, process and store food.
Locals in Happy Camp make good use of the Foodsheds Program cider press!
You could say we are building a more sustainable, independent or sovereign food system. I think we are building bridges in our community centered around food. This is the real accomplishment that is impossible to count. These are the intangible results that are worth more than any bar graph or chart or excel sheet.
Reflecting back on what we’ve done in the last five years I am proud to say, that even if nothing else has changed, at least I know those two boys in the garden really like kale!
Want to get involved? You can check us out on facebook Mid Klamath Food Shed or check out all of our gardening resources for the mid Klamath area at our website http://www.mkwc.org/programs/foodsheds/
This blog post is partially funded by the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Food Security Grant # 2012-68004-20018.
We are so thankful to the many partners, volunteers and participants who helped span the distance between us and create more Middle Klamath food security in the process. We owe our program’s success to YOU!
Ramona Taylor is the Director of MKWC's Foodsheds Program, an effort that addresses community food needs by building strong relationships, organizing peer-to-peer workshops, events and projects based on seasonal food activities, supporting ongoing initiatives in our community, and providing technical support for building strong school, community and family gardens.
Posted by admin on May 30, 2017
by Carol Earnest
As the school year winds down, educators turn to themselves and ask, “So, how did that go?”
For the MKWC Watershed Education Program, the accumulation of nine months worth of field trips, classroom projects, and presentations at five schools prompts program-introspection as we ponder some big questions: How did we do? What can improve? What should never happen again?
Unlike our admirable formal educators, we informal educators do not have the same tools to evaluate success. We do not have continuous contact with students all day, five days a week, where we receive assignments and administer final exams (though we occasionally try to throw a pre and post test into the mix). Instead, true to our namesake, we rely on informal ways to evaluate our programs.
We use a variety of tools to go about this process. As we walk into a classroom to pick up students for a field trip are we met with smiling faces or rolling eyeballs? These nuggets of feedback are meticulously filed away for future review. Showing up with a platter of muffins? Conducting hands-on experiments involving food coloring? Popular (smiles and enthusiastic nodding were dead giveaways). Trying to convince middle schoolers to pull weeds in 40 degree rainy weather? Eye-roll city.
In addition to body language, car talk is an invaluable source of information. I place the time in the car between school and a field trip site on a shiny golden pedestal of evaluation opportunity. A relaxed car environment with little direct eye contact, where there is a sense of levity as we leave school and head out to the unknown, and where no one can go anywhere, is when some of the best honest feedback flows. For example, while sitting waiting for road workers to let us through a rock slide, I found out that eating lots of fruit is something a student is looking forward to during this year’s Klamath-Siskiyou Outdoor School, and that another student is really not interested in camping outside, ever, and that another student doesn’t like to sit and listen to me talk for long periods of time and would rather get on with the activity. In less than five minutes I learned we needed to buy more fruit, plan more day activities, and spend more time with hands-on projects.
The final, and arguably most entertaining evaluation tool, is informal writing assignments, in the forms of thank you cards and blog posts. Both allow students to reflect, without the worry of being graded. Using the classroom-safe Kidblog program, students have their own accounts where their blog posts are read by their peers and teachers. They can receive comments, and they can upload photos. This creates a sense of ownership and pride in their work, and we find that students are more willing to reflect on activities and showcase what they learned when they get to pick their font color, background photo, and emoji.
Similarly, thank you cards are not graded and with little effort, they can provide great feedback with some reading between the lines. The teacher gives the assignment and it is often to the point, “write a thank you card.” This simplicity offers a lot of room for creativity. Often they include drawings, questions, stories, and words that I have to look up from students in classrooms with Thesauruses readily available (sagacious?). In these writing assignments, we can pinpoint what the students remember. Are they using a vocabulary word we taught? Are they using a presentation as inspiration for a creative writing piece? Did they draw tree species that we observed? In one set of thank you cards after a garden workday, over half of them mentioned that they enjoying using glitter during the arts and crafts project. Noted.
I will admit that I occasionally allow time for some indulgent blog post and thank you card reading. Feeling uninspired? Read some thank you cards. Trying to remember what we did on that field trip? Read some blog posts. Grant proposal due in an hour? Read some thank you cards. They are a gift that keeps on giving.
Here are some of my favorites:
While we still continue to administer end of the year written evaluations, I believe, from personal experience, that interpreting body language, having casual conversations, and receiving informal writing assignments, are valuable tools to supplement the more formal written feedback, providing a more in-depth evaluation of program activities. With these techniques we may not be able to definitively say, students showed a 90% improvement in their knowledge of ________, but we can definitively say that 90% of the students left the field trip with smiles and glitter on their faces and some hands on experience improving their watershed.
Carol Earnest is MKWC’s Watershed Education Program Co-Director. She facilitates positive, educational experiences for young people of the Middle Klamath watershed, including field trips with local schools, KSOS, other restoration raft trips and hands on activities at events through MKWC and partner groups. She brings three years of experience working with youth, and a boundless, infectious enthusiasm for natural processes that occur in our ecosystems.