Monarchs Take Flight at NKE

9-17-Ruhde-MonarchAmid all the back to school excitement this fall, many of our NKE kids are thrilled to get the class in the morning and check on their caterpillars. We have 15 classes this fall where the kids are carefully caring for monarch caterpillars, feeding them fresh milkweed every day as they wait for them to transform into a chrysalis and, before long, emerge as a monarch butterfly that is destined to fly all the way to Mexico! What a fun, engaging project for our NKE students.

Besides the obvious benefits to the kids, this project has greater meaning: We are taking part in monarch tagging through Monarch Watch. This organization started in 1992 as “an outreach program dedicated to engaging the public in studies of monarchs and is now concentrating its efforts on monarch conservation.” When our monarchs are ready to be released, a very small sticker with tracking information is attached to a wing. If a tagged butterfly is found, the data can be used to determine the pathways taken by migrating monarchs, the influence of weather on the migration, the survival rate of the monarchs, etc.

You may notice that we now also have a certified Monarch Waystation at NKE close to the tree we refer to as Mother Oak. Planting native plants that butterflies love to get nectar from is one way to help prevent their decline. Some other things you can do to help combat the decline of the monarch are:

  • Plant milkweed. It’s where they lay their eggs and is the only plant monarch caterpillars eat!
  • Limit use of pesticides or, even better, avoid them altogether.
  • Create inviting monarch habitat. In addition to the plants mentioned, Include large, flat rocks where monarchs can warm up in the morning; a spot where they can drink; brushes and trees for night cover; and, a particular butterfly favorite, mud puddles.
  • Encourage the preservation of grasslands and the planting of natives plants in local parks, along roadsides and more.

If you’d like to learn more, visit And if you’d like to get involved in our outdoor education efforts at NKE, please let NKE principal Chris Kluck know.

Fantastic Outdoor Ed News for the New Year

It was, indeed, a happy new year for the NKE: We started the year with fantastic momentum for our outdoor education efforts at NKE. There are two distinct but related parts that we are excited to share.

First, we were awarded a grant for close to $5,500 from the Wisconsin-based Abbot Foundation (a foundation related to the family of a NKE staff member) to purchase our own hoop house—the same model as the one that has already proven to work well at Oregon Middle School. Having the hoop house will greatly expand not just our space for gardening but also our seasons. At OMS, one of the things they are able to do with their hoop house is grow food that served at their cafeteria salad bar, and we hope to do the same at NKE so our kids can eat their own fresh food!

Second, when school came back in session we got the news that we also had received a Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant for more than $4,200. We had applied for this grant with the intent of being able to outfit our incoming hoop house with all the supplies necessary to hit the ground running. So this spring we’ll be doing some serious shopping for greenhouse shelving, seed starting kits and irrigation supplies, as well as building new raised beds inside our hoop house.

If you’d like to volunteer or help with our gardening efforts in any way, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact Mr. Kluck at

P.S. Two reminders: You can follow our progress on Facebook at Also, please save your Bill’s Food Center receipts and turn them in at school! Bill’s donates 1% of the receipts we turn in to the NKE Arb, which really adds up.

‘In Schools With Gardens, the Students Do Better…’

The Washington Post recently did an interesting story on schools in DC with outdoor gardens. The article describes that more than half of public schools there now have gardens after a 2010 law established a school gardening program. Some interesting excerpts:

“The gardens are neither luxuries nor insignificant. To young, formative minds, these green spaces represent an introduction to the delicate and vital dance between nature and the city in a century when the two must come together in harmony as never before.”

“Some lessons are obvious, such as the biology of growing a radish from seed. But the garden offers insights that go far beyond the brass tacks of cultivation. Geology, hydrology, poetry, music, ecology, cooking and microbiology all find a home in this arena we call a garden, as well as dozens of other subjects beyond most people’s imagination.”

“Sometimes the garden coordinators have to focus not on the students but on the teachers. “If they’re having trouble engaging the staff, we tell them, ‘Forget about the kids and start focusing on the staff, and get them to feel the magic of the garden,’ ” Holway said.”

And, perhaps most compelling of all:

“What is becoming clear is that in schools with gardens, the students do better. Many studies are bearing this out. In a newly published University of Maryland study of D.C. school gardens, researchers tracked significant differences in fifth-grade test results between students with gardens and those without. In reading, for example, 61 percent of students in garden schools tested as proficient or advanced, compared with 38 percent in schools without gardens. For math, the difference was 56 percent compared with 36 percent, and for science, 47 percent against 21 percent.”

NKE Progressing to Be ‘Green & Healthy’

For years now, staff and parents at different Oregon School District schools have pursued sustainability and outdoor education initiatives independently of each other. Although much exciting progress was being made, oftentimes people outside that school had no idea it was happening. Starting with this school year, the entire OSD is making a coordinated effort to be more sustainable, all under the umbrella of Wisconsin’s Green & Healthy Schools program.

As explained on the G&HS website, the program:

… supports and encourages schools to create safe learning environments and prepare students to understand, analyze and address the major environmental and sustainability challenges now and in the future through providing resources, recognition and certification. Administered through a partnership between the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education, this program provides information, resources and announcements for all school staff, community members and others interested in green and healthy initiatives and activities for Wisconsin schools.

The program recognizes achievement in nine focus areas:

  • community involvement
  • energy
  • environmental and sustainability education
  • environmental health (indoor air quality, chemical management, integrated pest management)
  • health and wellness
  • recycling and waste management
  • school site
  • transportation
  • water

Through achievement in these areas, schools make progress toward three main goals:

1. Reduce environmental impact and costs
2. Improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff
3. Provide environmental education, which teaches many disciplines, and is especially good at effectively incorporating STEM, civic skills, and green career pathways.

ghslogoThere are four certification levels: Sprout, Seedling, Sapling and Sugar Maple. Currently NKE is a Sprout—just beginning the process. Fourth-grade teacher Emily Anderson will be leading NKE’s efforts on the G&HS program, including the formation of a student group who will be integral in NKE’s progress.

If you’d like to be involved in this or our other outdoor education initiatives at NKE, please let Mr. Kluck know!

And, just a continual reminder: Please save your Bill’s Food Center receipts and turn them in at NKE. Bill’s support (donating 1% of all receipts we turn in) is integral to our success with the NKE Arboretum and other outdoor education projects at our school.

How Seed Catalogs Turned Into NKE Kids Buying a Farm

Earlier this year, a big pile of old seed catalogs I handed to fourth-grade NKE teacher Emily Anderson during an NKE Arboretum committee meeting took on a life vastly beyond what I had imagined—an opportunity for Project-Based Learning. What is PBL? “Students take charge of their education through hands-on, Project-Based Learning,” explains Ms. Anderson. “PBL  is a dynamic classroom approach in which students boldly explore real-world problems and acquire a deeper knowledge of the content.”

June16Blog-project-based-learning-gardening-LRIdeas for projects may ignite at any time, anywhere, and in this case the old catalogs were perfectly timed for the “Common Core State Standard 4.MS.A.3: Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems.” Traditionally, this standard is met by teaching students how to measure length, width, and the relationship between the two. However, when Ms. Anderson saw those seed catalogs, an idea struck her, she says: What if, instead of using the pre-created curriculum-based SmartBoard lesson to teach area and perimeter, she created her own project using these catalogs?

And so the Buy a Farm Project was born. Each student received $100,000 to buy a farm. “Initially, students thought $100,000 was a lot of money,” Ms. Anderson says. “That is, until they learned that it also needed to cover the cost of buildings/shelters on their farm, seeds for planting, irrigation systems, equipment (tractors, rototillers, etc.), and farm insurance.”

The project began by students individually choosing which crops they’d like to grow. Next, they researched farm animals and decided if they would like to have animals on their farm, too. After that, they used real-life USDA Agriculture Maps online to determine where the best place would be to purchase land, based on the specific fruits, vegetables and animals they were interested in. They learned about Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening and used the NKE Arboretum to measure and plan their own garden beds.  

A big step was using to look at real-life properties that are currently for sale in the United States, Ms. Anderson says. Through weeks of research, students could view what may be available with their $100,000. When confident with their decision, students completed a Land Purchase Request. After they “purchased” their individual property, students had to problem solve for housing options. This led to a conversation about risk management, financial literacy, and insurance.  

Insurance—both dwelling and crop protection—was a key player in the Buy a Farm project. Finally, students rounded out the project by creating a map of their farm based on the specific dimensions of their property and how many acres they’d purchased. This map helped them decide and calculate quantities of seeds to purchase from the many different seed catalogs that were on hand. Eventually, if students realized they needed more money than Ms. Anderson had offered, they learned how to write grants to request additional funding.  

During this project, Ms. Anderson played many different roles, she says: teacher, doctor, insurance agent, farmer, employee of the United States Department of Agriculture, meteorologist and seed catalog owner. Students were assessed and evaluated in real time, with real-life scenarios. “It was more than obvious: They were energized by the role-playing opportunities and captivated with the voice and choice woven within this project,” Ms. Anderson says.

The Buy a Farm project was not a task to be completed at the end of a unit to show mastery of standards or skills. Instead, the learning takes place through participating in the project. “I saw a change in my students that astounded me,” she says. “As time went on, it became more apparent that Buy a Farm resulted in more engaged, self-directed 4th graders who took ownership and responsibility for their learning.”

Not bad for a pile of old seed catalogs! How else can our efforts with the Arboretum and outdoor education inspire more experiential learning at NKE? The possibilities are limited only by imagination. If you’d like to get involved in our efforts, please contact NKE Principal Chris Kluck at And you can always follow our efforts on Facebook.

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