Principal’s Corner: River Day a rich experience for all | SierraSun.com

Principal’s Corner: River Day a rich experience for all

Suzi Phebus
Principal’s Corner

Fall on the Yuba River is extraordinary.

Donner Trail Elementary is steeped in environmental education and nestled next to the Yuba River, and we take full advantage of the opportunity to study the river, its riparian environment, and the importance of exposing students to their habitat.

Years ago we created the Yuba River Day, and it's now an annual event that everyone looks forward to at Donner Trail Elementary. Parents play an important role in our River Day and many lead centers and become their son's or daughter's teacher for the day.

This year we had seven stations: native grasses and composting, water pollution and filtration, watershed, bulbs, erosion, aquatic insects and river flow. The day started by assigning all students to multi-age groups as research reveals that learning from one's peer is very effective. The older students enjoy the responsibility of being the older guide and are much more focused at each station. The younger students learn from both the parent-teacher and their older multi-age schoolmates.

Many long-term projects begin on River Day. For example, one of the stations was native grasses and composting. Our school was awarded prize money as a result of receiving third place in an environmental contest sponsored by the Shane McConkey Foundation which enabled us to purchase composting bins. The students learned about composting during their visit to one of the stations. Students now add to the newly purchased bins daily. They put their green waste into a large bucket at the end of lunch. They have informed their families, and now they are dropping off green waste for the bins as well. They will continue this practice for several months until there is enough compost to fill the newly purchased bins.

Eventually, (this spring) the compost will go into several above ground gardens that will be installed in the spring of 2019. The gardens will host native plants that the students can study next fall at the 2019-2020 River Day! We are so appreciative of the Shane McConkey Foundation and its focus on environmental science.

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The Yuba River is a constant and plays host to the insects that are studied annually. Each year during River Day the students catch, identify, and record the data on insects. This information contributes to a later study of a changing riparian environment.

Over the years many different studies have occurred during river day. Last year our students built bat houses as a service learning project and installed them in Truckee and areas of the Summit. They gave a presentation to our Board of Education about the bats, their anatomy and physiology, and their contribution to man's habitat. They then gifted the board with a Bat House to adorn the district office building.

The multi-age groups of students, the study of the river's riparian environment, and the focus on the importance of acknowledging the habitat that surrounds them create an amazing day for students to be Living in the Learning Zone right out our back door! River Day at Donner Trail is a rich experience for all participants.

Suzi Phebus is principal at Donner Trail Elementary.