4-H wildlife stewards expand out of Oregon

May 31, 2006

PORTLAND, Ore. — In 1996, Oregon State University began training community volunteers to design and build wildlife habitats on public school grounds. These habitats were intended as a way for students and teachers to get out of the classroom and into nature while studying science, art and literature.

That first year, 17 volunteers completed 40 hours of training and created habitats in six Portland area schools. Since then, the OSU Extension Services 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program has trained close to 500 volunteers, and gotten more than 445 teachers and 14,000 students in 20 Oregon counties involved in the program.

Program organizers have since expanded the Wildlife Stewards concept beyond Oregon – and out-of-state interest continues to grow.

In 2003, Maureen Hosty, the OSU Extension 4-H project director for the program, trained 22 4-H agents in Alabama. This year, Hosty is helping Clark County in Washington set up a Wildlife Stewards program, and counties in Idaho are also jumping on the wildlife habitat bandwagon with several 4-H faculty members from Idaho attending Oregon’s spring program orientation.

“The program’s growth is an indicator of the impact 4-H Wildlife Stewards have had in Oregon schools,” Hosty said. “The program is built on the conventional 4-H ideals of youth development. Through their involvement in the habitats, students build their sense of belonging, independence, maturity and generosity.”

Examples of the program's success abound.

At Sunnyside Environmental School in southeast Portland, for example, 4-H Wildlife Steward volunteers have helped put in a variety of plants and gardens. Students spend several hours a week in the outside studying native plants, growing food and conducting inquiry based projects. The gardens are a hands-on research facility for the school’s entire K-8 population, said Sarah Taylor, Sunnyside’s principal.

“The K-2 students take a daily walk through the gardens,” Taylor said. “It’s an emergent curriculum that changes as different things happen in the garden. It’s important to make it interesting for the younger students and we strive to always have something growing, or changing, in the gardens. It could be a flower, a seedpod or a new art project.

"We are encouraging a love affair between the kids and nature,” Taylor added.

The 4-H Wildlife Stewards program was built because Oregonians were concerned about the environment, habitat loss and a lack of funding for science enrichment programs in public schools. But it has continued – and prospered – because of the enthusiasm of the trained volunteers, the students and their teachers, Hosty said.

"The wildlife steward habitats are much more than a few plants scattered around the school," she added. "Most students are spending at a minimum one to two hours of class time a week in their habitat working on science inquiry, art and creative writing projects. These Habitat Education Sites are truly being used as learning laboratories."

For more information about the 4-H Wildlife Stewards, or to become a volunteer visit the program website at http://wildlifestewards.4h.oregonstate.edu.

Author: Aimee Lyn Brown
Source: Maureen Hosty