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Heidi Brausch of Albany and Betsy Gammel of Medford observe as they release weevils into a field full of purple spotted knapweed near Spring Creek Thursday morning. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Oregon teachers learn about weeds, service-learning
High school teacher Jessie Kneisler loves taking her students outside for class.
This week she became a student of the Eastern Oregon wilderness.
Kneisler, a teacher in Sherwood, joined 17 other teachers from across the state this week for an Invasive Weed Institute hosted by the Oregon Natural Resource Education Program and the Bureau of Land Management.
ONREP hosts various professional development workshops for teachers every year, but the weeklong training on invasives serves to educate teachers as well as to equip them to teach students how to tackle service-learning projects, said ONREP Director Susan Sahnow.
“We use weeds because they’re everywhere you go,” she said.
Sahnow said teachers can be overwhelmed by the thought of tasking students with a service-learning project, but the workshop walks them through the steps as students. Then, they are asked to apply what they’ve learned to the classroom.
“The bottom line is this has got to be useful for them,” she said.
Kneisler said what she has learned this week will definitely be implemented into her environmental science class, even though some of what was taught pertains to Eastern Oregon ecosystems.
“A lot of the principles are the same, but the plants are different,” Kneisler said.
The teachers at the institute, like students, were tasked with coming up with a project for the week. The group Kneisler was in decided to address purple spotted knapweed, a noxious plant found in Union County. The 12 teachers and some of their teachers for the institute were in woods near Spring Creek Thursday morning to release a biological control to help the problem.
“Even though it looks beautiful it’s an invasive,” Kneisler said as they trekked through a field of the purple plant.
That particular knapweed, Cyphocleonus achates, is native to West Asia, Kneisler said, so they released native predators of the weed, about 50 root weevils obtained from a biological control center of the Nez Perce tribe.
The hope, Kneisler said, is that the weevil larvae, which are deadly to the weed’s roots, will populate and reduce the knapweed’s population.
Releasing a biological control is just one way to help reduce invasive species.
“These guys use a really multi-faceted approach,” Kneisler said of their teachers.
Other options are chemical controls and physical removal, the option the other group of students decided to use for their project. The other group headed out to a nearby ranch to pull thistles for the rancher. The rancher told the teachers at the institute that weeds reduce food for cattle and cost $1.10 for every mouthful that isn’t grass, Kneisler said.
Island City Elementary teacher Tory Weimer said the education he got this week was “overwhelming.”
“It’s been a big eye-opener as far as the issues with invasives,” he said.
Weimer said he and Darren Hendrikson, another Island City Elementary teacher at the institute, do a forest unit for their fifth-graders and hope to include some information on invasive species.
“It’ll become part of our curriculum for sure,” he said.
Wiemer said it was learning about little things that really got him interested in the topic. He said seed packets for wildflowers and even bird seed can contain invasive species seeds and that consumers should look for “weed free” on labels. Even plants bought at garden stores can be invasive, he said.
The teachers are spending Friday doing evaluations and lesson plans for the upcoming school year, with the hope that they can get students involved in service-learning projects to help their communities across Oregon.
“We have a great group of teachers. They chose to come out because they know it will engage students,” Sahnow said. “It’s all about students.”