The Natural World Program at Oak Hill School: The Landscape is the Curriculum

Oak Hill School is dedicated to integrating its natural environment into all phases of its curricula and community life. Its widely diverse 72 acre campus provides an outstanding opportunity to create an environmental awareness that recognizes the interdependence, beauty, and integrity of all of its members. This integration fulfills a desire by the Oak Hill community to reestablish in our students, our families, and our community a sense of place through an understanding of the local biotic system.

Oak Hill School sits on a 72 acre former horse ranch directly across from the confluence of the coast and middle forks of the Willamette River and from low lying Buford Park and the heights of Mt. Pisgah. Our built campus footprint sits on approximately 18 acres. Another 20 acres consists of pastures, orchards, a retention pond and adjacent grasslands. The remaining acreage consists of an upland oak savannah remnant, a mixed hardwood and fir transitional forest, riparian forest, and wet and dry prairie grasslands.

For the last 3 years the school has employed a resident naturalist whose activities include both curriculum-based and project-based integration of the landscape into all of the arts and sciences curricula. Student projects have included expansion of the oak savannah through student led reforestation, institution of worm composting for our food waste, introduction of bee colonies, expansion of the trail system, an ongoing streambank stabilization project including erosion control and habitat restoration, student garden pond rehabilitation, map and compass lessons, plant and wildlife identification projects, and initial mapping of natural areas for species identification plots.

 

All faculty members collaborate and all grade levels participate. Our focus throughout this program is the development of an age appropriate awareness that results in an attitude of respect, stewardship, and appreciation for the interdependent relationships required to sustain ourselves and our environment.

 

Activities are both project-based and curriculum-based. Project-based activities would include the semester-long mapping of the trail system and creation of trail signs, the year-long pond rehabilitation project, or the ongoing streambank stabilization project. Curriculum-based activities grow out of the current curriculum and might include activities like the month-long oak tree ecology lessons, forest life cycles lessons, or aquatic life lessons. The distinctions are not sharp, and often a project will grow from a curriculum event.

Collaborative Partnerships

Oak Hill School has working partnerships with the Camas Educational Network and Sequential Bio-Fuels. We have also established working relationships with BRING Recycling, the Willamette Resources and Educational Network, and Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah.

 

Community Outreach

Oak Hill School has opened its campus to a variety of community groups. We have hosted the Oregon State Extension Service’s Master Gardener Program, and partnered with both the Lane Community College’s Environmental Studies Program and the University of Oregon’s Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation. In addition, faculty, middle and high school students have participated in community service projects at Buford Park, Mt. Pisgah, and the West Eugene Wetlands, including invasive plant identification and removal, propagating native seed, and assisting in the native seed nursery at Buford Park.

Jim Luzzi, Naturalist