Environmental Stewardship at SWS
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
–Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Love of Nature
At Seattle Waldorf School, one of the greatest gifts each child receives is time spent in nature. Our curriculum derives strength from the changing seasons, and academic and artistic work are supported by the beauty of the natural world that surrounds us. The notion of a classroom expands beyond walls and buildings. All of our campuses—Meadowbrook, Magnuson, and Woodland Park—act as outdoor learning spaces where students first develop an understanding of the environment in which they live. Building this early love for the natural world later translates to a cerebral knowledge of what it means to care for our environment; and even later, how to truly work to protect it. The hours spent collecting chestnuts, observing worms and slugs, walking through the changing seasons, and tending to gardens and animals imbues our students with an understanding of the interconnectedness of our world.
When a structured gardening curriculum starts in grade 2, students witness the direct impact of their work and learn about the importance of the soil by planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables. There is a tangible outcome. As students progress through the grade school, they begin to see the larger environmental impact of humans on our planet. They participate in community projects that benefit the greater good and study the effects of local pollution and habitat destruction. In middle school, the introduction of outdoor education trips that directly relate to academic learning become standard and continue throughout high school. The trips combine a service component, support the curriculum, build character and resilience, and enhance the social health of the class community. Many students recall these trips as being one of the most memorable parts of their education, and what they learn sticks with them in a way that sometimes classroom academics do not.
Passion for the environment doesn’t end with outdoor education trips and service projects. In support of the Global Climate Strike held on September 20, SWS families across the grades attended local walks and events. The love and respect for nature that is cultivated in the early years of a Waldorf education easily translates to more direct action in protecting our planet and helping ensure that the next generation of voices are heard.
Environmental Service Projects at the Grade School
Grade 4 has partnered with the Thornton Creek Alliance to study the nearby Thornton Creek urban watershed, through which water from our neighborhood passes. For the second year in a row, grade 4 students are participating in the Citizen Science Water Quality monitoring project, part of an effort to preserve and restore the ecological balance of Thornton Creek. Assisted by parent volunteers, students have learned how to sample water and test for coliform bacteria in the Lavilla Natural Area and on the south fork of Thornton Creek. Data from their work are shared with Seattle Public Utilities scientists to locate and remove sources of pollutants along the creek. From the bimonthly samples they collect, students make observations about the sample sites and learn about the importance of clean water in small systems such as our school garden, and the impact on larger urban watersheds such as Thornton Creek.
By grade 6, students are participating in community service projects that focus on habitat restoration. This year, SWS is partnering with Green Seattle for habitat restoration projects on the north shore of Lake Washington in Magnuson Park. Students will learn to identify and remove invasive plants and to identify and plant Pacific Northwest (PNW) native plants. In addition, grade 6 students will also work toward establishing a small native plant nursery at SWS to grow plants for use on our campus and in the surrounding neighborhood. As part of this work, students learn about the history of our region and are introduced to the field of urban ecology. This important work is empowering as students witness the results of their efforts to improve the local habitat for PNW wildlife.
Aquaponic Farming Program at the High School
Aquaponic farming is offered as a special topics class called Seeds to Deeds at the high school. Students learn to grow sustainable food in the school’s Aquaponics Lab, and members of a student-run after-school club called Grow, Eat, Repeat market the food to local consumers and businesses. (Follow this link to read more about the inception of the program.)
With the 2019-2020 school year under way, Seeds to Deeds supporters, along with students and teachers involved in Grow, Eat, Repeat, and the high school administration, are filled with anticipatory energy for the coming season of bountiful eco-sensitive produce. Building on the success of our first growing season, where Grow, Eat, Repeat provided fresh microgreens, lettuce, and kale for families and our Maple Leaf food bank, we now anticipate getting additional students involved in more facets of the operation, along with increasing the efficiency and square footage of the growing room. With the support of a fifteen thousand dollar grant from the Myrin Foundation, we are poised to attain GAP (good agricultural practices) certification, seek a more diversified clientele, and strengthen our business practices.
Beekeeping at Meadowbrook
An estimated 70 percent of agriculture products and more than 80 percent of flowering plants worldwide are pollinated by animals, largely insects that include bees, hoverflies, and butterflies. Bees can be seen as an indicator species; having healthy bee populations supports a healthy environment. Students at SWS are introduced to solitary and social bees through observation and stewardship projects such as planting flowering plants that are beneficial for all pollinators on and around our campuses. Watching these gentle creatures go about daily life is fascinating and awe inspiring. Last spring, students saw mason bees fly out into the world and return with mud to build homes for their young in the nesting blocks. They saw bees bringing pollen and laying eggs before capping off the end of the tubes with more mud. SWS rents the bees from Rent Mason Bees, a company that provides orchard mason and leafcutter bee kits to local residents to help them host bees without having to buy, clean, and store the bees for the winter.
Later last spring, SWS purchased a nucleus of honeybees from a certified master beekeeper with Seattle Honey Bees LLC. Dr. Rasmussen, Mr. Pon, and several beekeeping parents have been learning about beekeeping and the personality of our gentle hive in the process. Understanding our bees and keeping them healthy so they can thrive is our primary goal. Students will learn how to care for the bees and their habitat environments—for example by studying the interaction between bees and flowers in campus pollinator gardens.
The Meadowbrook garden kiosk board has updates about honeybees and other interesting information about local plants. At home, we encourage families to support bee populations by not using harmful pesticides, protecting bee habitats, and planting pollinator-friendly gardens. For more information, visit this helpful website by the Honeybee Conservancy.