“The Kids Are Where They Want To Be”: Hans Smith And Environmental Science, Part 1.

Hans Smith was a biology teacher at Crater High School in Central Point Oregon.  He received a national award for environmental education for his innovative approach in linking scientific investigation to English and social studies.  Mr. Smith was one of Crater High School’s early visionaries.  Others have followed, resulting in the Crater Renaissance Academy and closer links to the nearby Crater Rock Museum.  Crater High School now has a claim to be the best high school in Southern Oregon.  What follows are some excerpts from a lecture, which Hans Smith gave at Medford Education International.

We started the Rogue Eco-Systems Project in the 1988-89 school year.  I was teaching a general biology class, and we were doing a unit on ecology and talking about the Rogue River.  Our kids at Crater High School did not have a clue of what they had in the Rogue River.  I spent three years, trying to put together a conservation program.

The first year we had fifteen kids enrolled in a single class.  Last year we had 104 students in our “school within a school,”, and we had to turn, probably, fifty away.

Everything we do will be centered around the environmental sciences.  We have picked two themes to center around, the first being watersheds, which we will study for the first twenty-seven weeks.  As we get to the end of the watersheds, we will give the students a project to do.  For one project, they will have to develop a plan for a campground and use their knowledge of government.  They have to use their biology when they put together their plans and give their presentations.  A second theme will be the life cycles of our Pacific salmon.  The students will pick one salmon and go through the complete life cycle of the fish.  Then at the end, they get this big piece of paper and they draw the river system in.  Let us say they have Coho.  They will tell us about the stream order, where the Coho was spawned and then tie the information together.

There are days that we get to go down to Bear Creek, and teach the kids how to take stream surveys.  We give each group of students 200 feet of Bear Creek.  They have to go out and measure it and tape it off.  That is their section for the year.  We will begin by teaching them how to take water quality tests and how to map natural invertebrates.  We take some pool and riffle ratios and do some data sheets on their section.  Once every nine weeks, about the end of the quarter, they have to give a presentation on the creek.  We also give them habitat projects on the creek.

Our juniors and seniors will meet for a three-hour block of time.  We integrate social studies, environmental science, and our communications or English.

Our community got together about four years ago, and built an 80’x40′ building for us.  We have forty-six acres, which we call the Land Lab where our FFA(Future Farmers of America) has its stalls , barns.  We have a baseball complex at the far end.  Bear Creek runs through it.  Half of our building is going to become a fish hatchery that our kids will run.  We are in the process of building our pond, so that we have a water source for the fish hatchery.  We will raise 2000 Coho to pre-smolts for the Department of Fish and Wildlife rather than raise them full-term, because we would have to try to get through the summer months and the water temperature would be a real problem.  So, we will get the eggs in Dec.-Jan. and then release them.  There is a lot of data collecting and knowledge that the kids will have to learn.

We are going to do more with the pond then just make it a little hole for water.  We have a very large swale down at the Land Lab and we can put together quite a little wetlands with some goose boxes.  We will be able to put an osprey tower in, but cannot put any warm water fish in, because the Department of Fish and Wildlife is afraid they might get into the Bear Creek system and cause a lot of problems.

During the fall, the students become teachers one day a week.  We will bus in a class of elementary school kids.  Then we have a group of students that become tour guides for that day.  They take these kids in small groups down to the creek and go through the stream surveys.  They teach them how to take the water quality tests, and all the kids love to get in the water and play with the bugs.  The kids spend about two to three hours with us.  Working with the elementary kids is is one of the favorite things our kids like to do.