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Pollinator Pals, With Cheese

Hannah Borgerson, Ethan Robison, and Sue Fthenakis. Not shown: Sara Enriquez and Pete Gonzalves.

by Ethan Robison and Kristina Lefever

What happens when you give passionate educators free cheese? An Education Committee apparently! Since September, PPRV has been putting together an Education Committee devoted to outreach and curriculum design for our Pollinator Pals program. Working with schools, youth programs, and outdoor educators, our goal is to provide high-quality and locally focused education for students of all ages throughout the Rogue Valley. This goal has encouraged us to push our boundaries in many different ways, and we have greatly increased our efforts in research, community outreach, and in-person teaching.

We are thrilled to be working with the volunteers who have joined our Education Committee and are already working to expand PPRV’s educational offerings. Each in-person meeting starts with sharing a cheese tray from our neighbor, the Oregon Cheese Cave - but we’re pretty sure they would show up either way!

On our committee, we have educators and experts from around Southern Oregon. To start with, Ethan Robison was brought on as PPRV’s first ever United Communities AmeriCorps member, our Pollinator Outreach and Education Specialist. Included in his job description is the formation of a committee to expand our education and outreach opportunities. Ethan contacted Hannah Borgerson, a former AmeriCorps member who worked with the education programs at Ruch Outdoor Community School and carries a passion for learning and teaching about healthy and sustainable ecosystems. Next up was Sue Fthenakis, an educator with over a decade of in-school experience and a profound understanding of how to support students in the classroom. Following this, Sara Enriquez joined our team, bringing 40 years of education to the table, as well as an understanding of what educators might want from PPRV. Last but not least, we convinced Pete Gonzalvez to join the committee so he can lend some of his ecology, entomology, and native plant knowledge to education in the Rogue Valley. You can learn more about these great committee members here.

So far, PPRV has designed customized lessons and activities for several schools throughout the Rogue Valley. Even before the Education Committee’s first meeting, we ran a class for the students at Armadillo Technical Institute (ATI) in Phoenix. We brought several American Lady (Vanessa virginensis) chrysalises for the ATI students to “adopt.” During the class, the students learned about the various environmental conditions and ecological needs of their butterflies, and over the two weeks following the lesson, they released all of their American Ladies into the school's pollinator garden. (See our earlier blogs "Look What Happens When You Grow Pearly Everlasting" to learn how these wild butterflies came to be at PPRV.

That same week, Ethan taught 4 classes at the Brighton Academy in Grants Pass for students grade 6-12. These lessons focused on the evolution of pollination, environmentally friendly pest management, and pollinator anatomy. While these lessons were fun and informative, there were definitely things that could be improved. A great reason for the education committee! Having one or two people designing a curriculum may work, but it won't be as effective as a team of experienced and knowledgeable educators working together.

Along with building in-person lessons for local schools, PPRV is planning to develop a “Pollinator Pals Lesson Kit” for educators around the valley. Our goal is to invite teachers to check out a physical box full of lesson plans, activities, and supplies, as a way to provide well-researched native pollinator and plant information to students of all ages.

Recently, PPRV got the chance to test out a lesson plan that will be in our Pollinator Pals kit with Talent Elementary’s Outdoor Discovery Program (students K-5). Thanks to teachers Jess and Spencer for inviting us!

Sara, Ethan, and Hannah, along with PPRV’s volunteer president, Kristina, taught the kids about how different flowers work with different pollinators. To help them visualize this relationship, the students constructed models of different flowers, and even pollinators, using an array of materials. Apparently, those little teeth cleaning brushes make great anthers! Check out the pictures of their amazing work!

This lesson was a hit with the students and teachers - all thanks to the combined efforts of the Education Committee. Each person provided suggestions and advice that truly refined the lesson plan and materials into something enjoyable for the Outdoor Discovery Program students. Now, we are working on developing lessons and activities for students at Bellview Elementary School, Ashland High School, and another class for ATI, with a list of additional educators to contact.

We definitely have lots of work to do, but everyone on the Education Committee is excited to contribute to pollinator education in our area, and ensure that every student here has the opportunity to learn about the wondrous native pollinator ecology in our bioregion!

Interested in learning more about our Pollinator Pals program? Contact Ethan at 775-376-3461.


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