Stream Team — Part I

If you’ve gone to Siuslaw, Mapleton or even Reedsport’s Highland elementary schools, chances are you’ve gone on a field trip with Stream Team

March 20, 2019 — If you’ve gone to Siuslaw, Mapleton or even Reedsport’s Highland elementary schools in recent years, chances are you’ve gone on a field trip with Stream Team. Using a unique ethno-botany angle, Stream Team founder Jim Grano and his team of area teachers and volunteers instruct students about the Siuslaw watershed, sustainability and the importance of the salmon to the ecosystem. Now, with Grano set to retire at the end of June, Portland-based nonprofit Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors (ECO) is looking into absorbing the program.

Grano first came to the area in 1974 to teach at Mapleton, a time when the population was still connected to the land and its waters through logging, hunting and fishing. 

“For years before I got this opportunity, I’d go on field trips and the bus drivers were STEP (Salmon Trout Enhancement Program) guys,” Grano said. “They’d say, ‘The kids ought to be involved in what we’re doing. We’re doing some really cool stuff.’ When I got a self-contained class, I thought I would make a theme of salmon and rivers so we could work social studies, language arts and math into it.”

He began Stream Team in 1995, close to when the state began the Oregon Plan for Salmon Restoration. He worked with STEP and the U.S. Forest Service on the inception of the program, eventually partnering with the Siuslaw Watershed Council, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Lane Management and private landowners to set up a place for students and experts to meet. The Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians (CTLUSI) also got involved.

“It was a pilot program, in the sense that I had a self-contained class and was able to make a theme and figure out what I wanted to do,” Grano said. “With their help, including a private landowner up Condon Creek off the North Fork, we had a field trip site and a plan on what we were going to do — and away we went.”

By 1998, Stream Team was submitting grants and receiving funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB).

“They pretty much funded the program until my retirement in 2007. Then Andy Marohl took over from me and kept the Stream Team going and kept getting OWEB grants. When he became principal (of Siuslaw Middle School), there was a year or two with a couple different folks until McKenzie Perry came in. She does the sixth-grade Stream Team and does a fabulous job,” Grano said.

Although the OWEB grants have ended, Stream Team has been able to continue due to the schools, volunteers and grants from local sources.

“Things have changed since 1995 and the school supports it more, paying for substitute teachers and buses,” Grano said. “There’s a lot of support for this kind of educational activity. The community loves it, the kids love it, the teachers love it.”

Area elementary students begin learning about the watershed in kindergarten, with each grade building more discovery and science lessons onto the early foundation.

“It’s a lot of really good stuff happening, and it’s longterm since we’re starting in kindergarten and first grade. Every year, we’re learning something different, or an extension that’s more sophisticated,” Grano said.

Teachers start lessons in the classroom, and then students take one to three field trips all over the area, including Whittaker Creek, Knowles Creek, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and Heceta Head and Sea Lion Caves.

“I thought it would be so cool for that information to be front-loaded in the elementary, so that by the time you get to seventh grade you can do more in-depth things, like McKenzie is doing now with scientific inquiry,” Grano said. “The kids develop a question, they go out and gather the data with the help of experts and then they do a mini science fair to show their results. She’s been doing that for a couple years and it’s really good.”

It’s not just about getting outdoors, either, or following a lesson plan.

“The kids learn the term ‘stewardship,’” Grano said. “It’s the idea that they’re going to take care of this resource so their kids and grandkids will see it just like they’re seeing it today, or even better. And then they learn what’s out there in the natural resources. They learn the lifecycle of the salmon, and they see the steelhead come through the STEP-operated trap up at Whittaker Creek. They get to see them artificially spawn and find out why that’s going on and what is the point. They get to touch the fish, and kiss them if they choose, which has been a theme for about four years now.”

Last Thursday, Alyssa Cargill’s third-grade class from Siuslaw headed out on one of the Stream Team field trips. Accompanied by school staff and parent volunteers, as well as a classroom from Lane Community College Florence Center, the third-graders met Grano, Brian Hudson from STEP and Amelia Remington from ECO. It was a busy day, as the students learned from STEP before lunch and set off into the forest afterwards.

Remington introduced the concept of ECO and the importance of outdoor learning.

“Today, we will be learning all sorts of ecology, or the study of nature or ecosystems. … We’re at Whittaker Creek, which flows into the Siuslaw, which then flows into the ocean. It’s a very important creek in our watershed,” she said.

Remington also explained safety reminders about being so close to the creek, including the concept of respect for the environment, the other students, the instructors and the steelhead themselves.

“In respecting those fish, we’re learning from them. They’re giving us the opportunity to learn about their bodies and anatomy; it’s a mutual respect thing,” she said.

Grano first learned about ECO a couple years ago from a networking connection with the USFS. While ECO was created in 2005, it centered around Portland-area lessons. Grano’s connection suggested he meet with ECO’s director of operations and co-founder, Sarah Bercume, and the two met at the Caffeination Station in Mapleton.

“They were looking to expand out of Portland, and here was an intact program they could kind of absorb with their resources, and it was real fortuitous networking,” Grano said.

For the next two years, ECO came on field trips, met with Stream Team members and networked. It also hired Remington, a grad student from University of Oregon, who is being mentored by Grano and will link Stream Team and ECO.

One of ECO’s next steps is to seek grant funding to hire an outreach and education specialist for the Siuslaw Watershed Council. It will also work with Highland Elementary on its next outdoor school, which could come in either 2019 or 2020.

Back at the field trip, the students stood at a fence looking down on Whittaker Creek and at STEP’s salmon trap.

“There’s a buzzword, ‘place-based learning,’” Grano said, “which is what’s happening when you’re out in your own watershed and learning stuff you didn’t know about. We emphasize not just going out for the day and that’s it, but we try to make meaning out of what we did. … One teacher said she gets the best writing assignments she ever gets after these trips. With the right prompts, they have lots to write about.”

(In Part 2 of this series March 23, a look at the program in the words of students, and what the future holds for the program with its new ECO stewardship)