Green vision for learning draws VIPs

May 4, 2011

When U.S. educators are seeking inspiration, they often turn to the Institute for Democratic Education in America - a group that organizes tours of innovative schools and programs around the country.

In late April, Hood River Middle School teacher Michael Becker and the Food and Conservation Science program were selected as a premiere example of innovation, creativity and cutting-edge educational vision within U.S. schools.

In all, 37 educators and administrators from across the country spent the morning in the presence of enthusiastic middle school students and project coordinator Becker, reviewing the applied learning program housed in the new greenhouse, classroom and garden project on HRMS' northeast corner.

"We traveled to HRMS specifically to see the work of Michael Becker and the students who are actively using permaculture principles to thread together learning about math, science, agriculture, entrepreneurship and sustainability," said Scott Nine, IDEA executive director and tour leader.

Becker, along with Brent Emmons, HRMS principal, has worked to create a real-world application lab for sciences, math, history and literature through curriculum-based, student-directed activities. Becker, as a "teacher on special assignment" to the project, was moved into the job from his previous work as a full-time sixth-grade teacher.

Becker and Emmons both noted their shared vision to change from a traditional home economics model (family and consumer studies) to a model based on developing skills in food security, sustainability and comprehensive understanding through real-world problem solving. The vision resulted in huge curricular changes and a name change to Food and Conservation Science.

With full-time focus, Becker has been able to facilitate middle school students in their quest to create an exciting and functional sustainable mini-ecosystem.

"I really just see myself as a facilitator," said Becker. "These kids direct the learning. They do the math to figure out water pump rates and heat exchange in the greenhouse. They design the systems and the marketing plans. It's all about their taking full responsibility."

Becker has also supported the success of the project by garnering several hundred thousand dollars in grant funds, along with recruiting local volunteer engineers, scientists and educators to enrich the learning experience.

"Too often, we have failed to make learning relevant, engaging and connected directly to community needs," said Nine. "This project at Hood River Middle School demonstrates what is possible when we intentionally create dynamic learning spaces for young people and connect them to real-life in the community."

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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