Learning thrives in warm embrace of city-district partnership
Emmett Klann was among the first graders who served as docents, denoted by their brown paper vests, during a spring 2017 community event celebrating the opening of Prineville’s Crooked River Wetlands Complex. They helped research and design informational kiosks for the wetlands. (Emmett Klann photo courtesy of Sarah Klann | Kiosk photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Prineville asked Barnes Butte Elementary School first grade “junior planners” last spring how the city should use its new recreation area.
About 100 first graders, with clipboards and pencils, went tramping over the juniper-dotted hills and grassy lowlands of the undeveloped land within sight of the school, intent on making it a better place for their community.
“It was crazy and beautiful,” said first grade teacher Marilee Smith.
Prineville and the Crook County School District have nurtured a symbiotic relationship in which student learning opportunities create public works for the community’s good. Community partnerships to enhance education were a key focus of legislators working on the Student Success Act, and Prineville and Crook County are blazing a trail.
The district has married many of its elementary school lesson plans to hands-on learning in city recreation areas. The city has supported these projects, providing resources and staff and incorporating the students’ work into the areas.
Students spent weeks on intertwined lessons studying the Barnes Butte Recreation Area. Kitted out in yellow plastic construction hats adorned with project-related stickers, the first graders presented their ideas to city representatives at a community event last spring. Those ideas are now working their way into the city’s master plan.
On Friday, Sept. 27, the city will hold a community barbecue at the school with wagon rides to show off the recreation area and its planning. Landscape architects will present plans Saturday at the school that were shaped by the students’ identification of key area features.
As part of their classwork, students discussed how to make Barnes Butte a place worth visiting. Students wanted to protect an osprey nest, create a pond area and provide benches to enjoy the surrounding views. The first graders also asked for more access for people with disabilities because a classmate who uses a wheelchair couldn’t go on their tour.
John Mattioda, who is in second grade now, said he wanted to create a kiosk about what bats would do at night there.
“I felt my ideas were important,” he said.
Beyond the lessons in math, science and literacy, the collaborations have affirmed for students that they are valued community members, said Crook County Superintendent Sara Johnson.
“Having a place where you belong is so critical for the long-term success of kids,” she said.
She said the district now gets a seat at the table when the city does planning, giving staff and students valuable input.
The district has long invited city staff into its classrooms for presentations, but a real partnership took root in 2012 with a city wetlands project. Prineville wanted to create a water-reclamation area for its wastewater treatment plant, and recreation and education were part of the planning from the start.
The city enlisted students to help plan the area and create informational kiosks. Students from three area elementary schools, the middle school and high school participated. Students researched subjects such as geology, insects and plants and met with designers to create the kiosks. Middle school students built 250 bird houses.
The students became “wetland stewards.” The young experts, complete with brown paper vests decorated with stickers representing the kiosks, presented their work in a community celebration in 2017.
The city designed the wetlands with student visits in mind as well. The parking lot has spots for buses, and it is set up so that the kiosks most appropriate for younger children are closest to the parking lot.
The mutual feedback enhanced the area’s usefulness, and the Crooked River Wetlands Complex has become a point of civic pride.
“By involving the school, people take a vacation and come to our wastewater treatment plan,” City Engineer Eric Klann said.
Crook County School Board Chair Scott Cooper said schools and cities need to work together because communities are only as good as their schools.
Barnes Butte Elementary Academic Coach Sarah Klann and her husband, the city engineer, have been at the heart of much of the collaboration, but district and city staff foster deeper relationships in many ways.
The district has included city staff and officials on long-range planning committees, and City Manager Steve Forrester and Mayor Steve Uffelman periodically come to school board meetings to talk about Prineville initiatives and how the school district could plug in. Superintendent Johnson attends city council meetings to keep them in the loop on school needs and plans.
“What you can’t do is allow your schools to get siloed off,” Cooper said.
Prineville has been booming with the growth of nearby data centers, and Forrester sees good schools as essential to drawing businesses and families.
“The two working closely together, I think it’s good business,” he said.
As the wetlands project mostly wrapped up, the Barnes Butte property offered a new opportunity.
Prineville bought 460 acres behind Barnes Butte Elementary in 2016 for the water rights and recreation space. The city enlisted students to help decide how to use it.
The Klanns are on the focus committee, which is using student input to develop the master plan. Students have already created recreation area attractions, including designing a habitat for pollinators and a welcoming kiosk for visitors. They have researched geology, raptors and the history of the site for future kiosks.
Barnes Butte Principal Jim Bates calls it a mutually lucrative relationship, not only for the sharing of resources but also because the partnership perks the interest of grant funders. For example, Facebook, a local employer, gave the district $15,000 to pay for teacher training related to the school projects and added $5,000 to pay for a kiosk.
The partnership has been so successful, according to district leaders, that it has inspired other agencies to contact the district about working together, including the U.S. Forest Service, Deschutes Land Trust and Crook County on the Move.
The recreation areas, with the city’s support, provide a setting, a lab and tangible outcomes for the students’ work.
“I couldn’t have dreamed up something more effective,” Bates said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
Barnes Butte is visible from the back of Barnes Butte Elementary School, conveniently close for frequent student visits. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)