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How Flathead Valley students are growing their own outdoor classroom

Katrin Frye

Several gardens at Flathead Valley schools are bringing the outdoor classroom a little bit closer to the indoor one. $16,000 in grant money received by Flathead National Forest in partnership with the Flathead Audubon Society is paying the way for native plant gardens at four area schools.

The grant comes through the US Forest Service “More Kids in the Woods” program.

West Valley School students native plant garden is based on a Native American Medicine Wheel.             It’s divided into four sections, each a different color. Red representing fire and strength; bule, a school color and representing water, mountains and snow; yellow for happiness and inspiration, and white for freedom of heart and pride. All the plants are native to Montana.

West Valley fourth grade teacher Vonnie McDonald had students research what plants to use looking at things like how tall they will grow and their color, and science teacher Erin Bodman said they then wrote persuasive essays and a panel chose what to plant.

“The whole point of it is just to get kids aware of their natural surrounds. So, the garden that we’re planting today is consisting of all native plants, and so the goal is for students to see these plants here, and then be able to recognize them when they’re out in their natural habitat when the students are out in the forest,” Bodman said.

Credit Katrin Frye
West Valley School is one of four Flathead Valley schools to use USFS grant money to establish a Native Plant Garden.

The garden at West Valley is one of three at area elementary schools, with an expansion to the native bird garden at Glacier High School. The project is called “Discovering Flathead’s Feathered Friends-Enhancing Schoolyard and National Forest Habitat.”

Conservation Educator Ashley Mason with the Flathead Audubon Society said this brings lessons alive for the students.

“Funding for field trips has been cut drastically as budgets have been reduced. We are trying to bring native habitats closer to the school so that they have an outdoor classroom where they can observe native plants, native bird species, and all sorts of other biodiversity that’s just right outside their back door,” Mason said they hope to expand on the projects in the future.