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Conservation Neighbor: Karrie Woodruff

By Heath Keirstead | December 30, 2020
Karrie, at center with sunglasses, models active listening for her students on a Salmon Watch field trip.
Karrie, at center with sunglasses, models active listening for her students on a Salmon Watch field trip.

As a Garfield Elementary School teacher, Karrie Woodruff became part of the BSWCD community through Salmon Watch in the fall of 2017. On her school’s first field trip, typical Oregon November weather prevailed – rain! The kids’ flimsy disposable ponchos were not up to the job. After a break for lunch, the sessions were just starting up again when – BOOM! CRACKLE! – lightning struck nearby. Thunder and lightning are so rare in this area, Karrie was thrilled and thought things were getting really interesting. Fortunately, another adult pointed out that lightning could be a risk, so the students were directed to quickly and calmly get on the bus and head back to school. Too bad it ended prematurely, but what a finale!

Karrie doesn’t think of herself as a scientist or a conservationist. Initially she wasn’t very excited about salmon, but as she started learning about their life cycle, she connected with the greater symbolism of being adaptive and determined. She realized that what might have been just another science lesson could actually teach some big ideas. And the students will stay focused better now that she’s received a BSWCD Conservation Education Grant for boots and rain coats.

Garfield is a Spanish immersion school. Since fewer Spanish-language resources exist, she creates engaging, hands-on lessons that build from what students know from their surroundings and integrate multicultural perspectives. For Salmon Watch, she created a book by combining information from various sources. Her students learn about the history of the Willamette Valley. Her lessons convey the idea that humans have always had an impact on their environment. Karrie’s students are asked to consider what their impact might be; and discuss what they want it to be. Karrie graciously shares her lesson ideas and Spanish resources with BSWCD so they are available for other dual immersion schools.

Karrie sees students transform during outdoor experiences like Salmon Watch and Outdoor School. Having taught for 20 years, she has seen some of her students become young adults. “When they tell me they’re studying something in college that I taught them in elementary or high school, I am completely delighted and wonder if perhaps I’ve played a small part in their decisions. When I see our current students in 10 years and they tell me that they’re biologists, I’ll give some of the credit to these outdoor experiences.”

About the Author

Heath Keirstead

Heath Keirstead manages Benton SWCD’s Communications and Community Engagement as well as the Native Plant Program and Youth Education. She has a Master’s in Soil Science from Oregon State University. With a dual passion for people and the planet, she loves building relationships with partners, customers, volunteers, and students.

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