High school juniors McKenna Haney and Jaycee Ritola stand in front of a row of tall evergreens, guiding a class of seventh graders around the edges of the forest. The younger students measure trees, collect samples, and record data on their clipboards as the high school students demonstrate not only how to collect scientific data, but also their passion for the subject.
Haney and Ritola, who are in their third year of Battle Ground Public Schools’ Center for Agriculture, Science and Environmental Education (CASEE) program, have spent plenty of time in their favorite classroom: the forest on the 80-acre campus in Brush Prairie where the CASEE program is housed. Their experience with these woods makes them ideal guides for hands-on science and data collection field trips with their younger cohorts.
High school students in the CASEE program spend half of their school day on the program's campus, where they study a science-based curriculum immersed in biology, wildlife, food science and other topics together with English, and then attend their home high school for the other half of the day.
The CASEE program started as a cooperative between the horticulture and science programs at the district's high schools, and continues to drive collaboration among all the district's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs through activities such as educational field trips.
“From the very beginning, a large part of the mission in acquiring and developing this space was to make sure that it would be a resource for the entire district,” said Mark Watrin, science specialist and teacher on special assignment (TOSA) for Battle Ground Public Schools. “In fact, the CASEE campus has been a useful tool for teaching math and science to district students since before there were even any buildings here.”
As Washington state's learning standards for science are updated, district staff work to ensure that the CASEE program and data collection field trips meet the standards. This year, district sixth graders are taking a field trip to Mount St. Helens, and seventh grade students are doing a forestry project at the CASEE campus. These field trips are designed to align with classroom curricula.
In addition to the outdoor classroom and the CASEE program, the site is also the location of the district's main office, Summit View High School, and the
recently-opened Family and Community Resource Center.
“Our teachers and staff are very passionate and motivated to get students out in the
field, and we’re very grateful that through careful help and planning from the community, we are able to provide hands-on science education,” Watrin said. “This is just one example of how having access to funding to adequately staff our schools and maintain the buildings that house these important programs is a valuable resource for the entire community.”
More about the CASEE program
The CASEE program has been hailed as a guiding light among Washington's STEM programs and was awarded a $20,000 grant to mentor other schools that are developing STEM education programs of their own. CASEE is one of five schools and one district that were named STEM Lighthouse schools last year in the state of Washington, and is the only recipient in Southwest Washington. The schools have been chosen to serve as STEM mentors, and were awarded grants to promote and develop STEM education, including technical assistance and advice for other elementary, middle and high schools that are creating STEM programs.