What used to be an open plot of grassland behind Sunrise Elementary School will hopefully, in the next decade or two, develop into an ecosystem and outdoor learning center supported by a host of native vegetation that the school's fifth grade class helped to plant on Friday.
According to Scott Schroeder, the parent volunteer overseeing the project who is also a vegetation supervisor for the city of Kent, they include 75 plants that represent:
- Sitka spruce
- Vine maple
- High bush cranberry
- Douglas fir
- Yellow monkey flower
- Oregon ash
- Red Osier dogwood
- Indian plum
This is the last phase of a project the students began in June when they first planted seeds for these plants on a field trip to the Green River Natural Resources Area (GRNRA) in Kent.
Nearly all those seeds have since grown into saplings (save for the evergreens, said Schroeder), so there was a poetic continuity about seeing the students now taken their saplings and place them in the ground.
The idea for such a dedicated area is credited to principal Chris Beals, who wanted to build on an annual tree program that Schroeder had presented at the school with his staff. In past years, students had the chance to plant seeds to take home to transplant. Last year, Beals thought that more could be done and approached Schroeder about creating an outdoor environment right by the school that would sustain its own ecosystem for the students to learn from and enjoy.
Practically, the fifth grade project is a good way to get native trees planted and growing and hopefully begin to draw other wildlife to establish its own ecosystem here, said Schroeder. The other part of the project is that it gives the graduating students something to leave the school -- a legacy.
Fifth grader Chance McMorrow liked the idea. Thinking about what it'd be like to come back in 10 years to see his tree, he said, "That would actually be really, really cool to see it not chopped down and an adult tree and everything."
Seeing the vegetation removed had been a concern for the students, according to Beals. Prior to this past summer when Schroeder, along with community volunteers who donated time and resources molded the area into shape, it was largely growing wild around one lone and brushy cottonwood tree.
Part of the vegetation upkeeping was actually to remove dead brush as well as competing plants that would steal resources away from the students' saplings. "They were concerned when they saw it had been mowed down," Beals said, but Schroeder explained to them "that once a year, we have to do that and that will actually allow these plants to be successful."
To alert the groundskeepers that their trees needed to stay put, the students tied bright pink ribbons to the trunks.
"We talked about how for the younger kids, they're setting this up for them to enjoy," Beals said, "and how they're the first group of fifth graders to do a project that will become kind of a tradition every year."
Classes have already taken place outside this year where students practiced their skills of observation and data collecting, he said. Staff are hoping for a partnership with Enumclaw Middle School nearby in which the older students could help mentor the elementary school students with science projects.