A small, quiet mountain in Chilliwack has been getting a lot of attention lately from a group of Grade 4 and 5 students who are helping protect native plants and animals from an invasive species of ivy.
The Little Mountain elementary kids in Caelah Merrick’s class trekked up Little Mountain on May 13 and again on May 27 to remove invasive English ivy from trees in the forested area.
“As a class we have been learning about how all living things respond to their environment, including invasive species,” Merrick said. “With May being Invasive Species Action Month we thought it would be great to give the class a hands-on opportunity to see the impact of invasive species.”
With huge shears in hand, the kids snipped and ripped out large chunks of ivy wrapped around Douglas fir trees.
“It’s really great to get out of the classroom. There’s a lot more engagement. They ask a lot more questions, there’s a lot more dialogue, you get to know them,” Merrick said.
Steve Clegg, environmental service specialist with the City of Chilliwack, and Dr. Marc Greidanus who helps build and clean up trails throughout Chilliwack’s forests have also joined the kids.
Merrick used to teach at Kwíyeqel secondary school (formerly the Ed Centre) and has worked with Greidanus in the past when Merrick’s teenaged students helped build trails at Lewx Qwò:m Park.
Over the past year, since schools opened up again, Merrick’s Little Mountain students have been doing a lot of hikes and have been focusing more on outdoor education.
“We noticed there was a need for helping along the trails,” Merrick said.
So he reached out to Greidanus who brought Clegg on board, and by May 13 the three adults and 17 kids were up on Little Mountain removing the ivy.
“Dr. Greidanus, Mr. Clegg and I were truly amazed with how hard they worked last time,” Merrick said as they hiked up the hill to the top of Little Mountain on May 27.
Another benefit is the students then bring what they’ve learn home and start removing the ivy from their own backyards, Dr. Greidanus added.
The kids didn’t just learn about how ripping out the English ivy saves trees and other plants, but how it helps protect animals as well.
“English ivy kills the trees, which means birds have nowhere to make nests. The birds can die as a result of the ivy, too,” wrote four students who worked on their assignment together.
In between bouncing from tree to tree and untangling their trunks from the ivy, the kids could be seen crouching down on the trails, their fingers poking gently through twigs and damp leaves in search of animals.
On both trips, they found endangered Oregon forestsnails. Clegg taught them that those snails love to eat stinging nettles, a native plant that can also get strangled and die from invasive English ivy.
They also got excited when they found other native species like salmon berries and the cyanide millipede.
For the kids to know they’re helping the forest and animals, in addition to getting exercise has been rewarding, Merrick said.
“It was a really rich learning experience for them to have that hands-on learning in their community… and it’s helped them with their writing,” he said, adding the kids were excited to write about their experience afterwards.
“What a perfect month for us to restore the forest to its beautiful self,” student Jackson Sepass wrote in his assignment. “It was so much fun cutting up the ivy and saving the trees.”
Being outside gives them a sense of respect for the animals, something they might not have had simply by looking at a book or a piece of paper. They might forget what they’ve learned when they see a picture of a snail but “when Mr. Clegg was talking to them about the Oregon forestsnail they got to hold it and know that this is an endangered species,” Merrick said.
The outdoor classroom opened his eyes to something else, too.
“Some of the kids that have the most struggles in the classrooms are the superstars when they’re here. They really find themselves and feel a sense of accomplishment and success,” Merrick said. “They enjoy giving back.”