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Sunrise Elementary Students Plant Seeds for Future Outdoor Education Center

School leaders envision the future outdoor learning area as a space for students to get their hands dirty exploring the natural environment and also where next year's graduating fifth graders can leave their legacy.

Two school bus loads of third and fourth graders from visited the Green River Natural Resources Area (GRNRA) in Kent Thursday to learn about the native environment and plant their own seeds for tree saplings that next year will be transplanted behind the school building in what will become an outdoor education center.

The idea for such a dedicated area is credited to principal Chris Beals, according to Scott Schroeder, a vegetation supervisor for the city of Kent and parent volunteer.

Schroeder, who along with his staff has presented a tree program at the school for the last four or five years, explained that in the past, students were given a short presentation about the significance of trees in sustaining a healthy wildlife and then had the chance to plant seeds to take home to transplant.

This past school 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.

After consultations with district grounds staff, school staff and other community supporters who wanted to provide materials, they had the perfect spot: a lone cottonwood tree now stands in what will be the near-center of the new education area, said Schroeder. (In the last two weeks, Schroeder has on his own time, mowed through a clear path for where the walking trail will run.)

Word of the project was put out via the school newsletter and the community outpouring of support quickly followed. In February this year, the Alicea family donated $5,000 toward the project; various community members have also come forward with donations of gravel and woodchips for the walking trail as well as material and labor to create kiosks, signage and a staging area, Schroeder said.

Ongoing Student Legacy

The seeds the students planted Thursday will germinate and grow at the GRNRA for the next year until these students are ready to graduate as fifth graders next year. Then, the saplings will be transplanted to the ever-evolving outdoor learning area at Sunrise.

Practically, it's 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.

"Enumclaw is such a tight-knit community - this is something the kids will enjoy for years," he said.

Beals and Schroeder acknowledge students probably can't keep planting trees year after year though vegetation can vary after a certain period of time. Future fifth graders might also contribute signage (and research) for the various wildlife that have moved in or contribute to trail management and possible even boardwalks, Schroeder said.

The students who went on Thursday's field trip appeared to have enjoyed the learning experience and were even gifted with an appearance by a blue heron, Schroeder said. To a degree, the GRNRA is a large-scale version of the planned education area at Sunrise, and educators hope it will evolve into a complex enough ecosystem that will become a valuable learning resource not only for Sunrise by for other district schools as well, said Beals.

Looking Forward

Officials are pursuing a variety of funding sources and grants to help sustain the project.

Meanwhile, Schroeder said he expects at least one volunteer work party to take place this summer to further carve out the boundaries of the area and lay the groundwork for next year's tree saplings to be planted. Patch will help put the word out when that time comes for those interested in helping out.

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