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BANDON - Students at Harbor Lights Middle School are learning about science and the environment using gloves instead of pencils.

Seventh and eighth graders in Nicole Kraynik's Science, Technology, English, Art and Math (STEAM) class have been working on a creek restoration project at Gross Creek, where it runs behind Ocean Crest Elementary School between Ninth and 11th Street. The creek has been the site of many similar projects involving groups of students, whose teachers have worked it into their science curriculum. 

This particular project was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ocean Guardian School program when HLMS received a grant last year from their Office of Marine Sanctuaries. The $4,000 grant, which Kraynik applied for, covered the cost of tools, plants, planning costs and an upcoming field trip. 

According to the National Marine Sanctuaries website, an Ocean Guardian School makes a commitment to the protection and conservation of its local watersheds, the world's ocean and special ocean areas, such as national marine sanctuaries. It provides opportunities for students, teachers, parents and friends to participate in a range of environment and sustainable activities and provides learning opportunities that reflect environmentally sustainable practices that enable all students to be environmentally active and committed "Ocean Guardians."

The school that earns the designation makes this commitment by proposing and then implementing a school- or community-based conservation project.

"The main goal of the Gross Creek project is to improve the stream habitat along Gross Creek and provide a project-based outdoor learning experience for our students," said Kraynik. "Students are learning how human impacts can affect the health of the stream by learning about watersheds, invasive species and local native plants."

Invasive plants are being removed and native plants are being planted in their place. Some middle school students have worked in the Go Native greenhouse to help propagate the native plants and most of the work has been done or will be done by Kraynik's elective STEAM class students.

Last year, the class got a late start due to all the rain, but the students managed to remove invasive blackberry from a section of stream bank near the shot-put area on the west side of the creek along 11th Street about 70 feet long and 35 feet wide. It was too late in the year to plant.

The project was not an isolated lesson but rather a collaboration. There were multiple community education partners working with the seventh and eighth grade students last year.

Retired longtime Bandon High School teacher and Boy Scout leader Jim Proehl, who is now the president of the Bandon Historical Society, gave a presentation to the students about the history of Gross Creek.

Representatives from the New River Area of Critical Environmental Concern taught a lesson about invasive species. 

And Darcy Grahek, master naturalist, presented a lesson on local invasive plants and their effect on habitat.

Last spring, Kraynik's students participated in Ocean Crest's Earth Day celebration and some of the students presented information about invasive and native plants and took Ocean Crest students on an interpretive hike along Gross Creek.

This year, students began removing blackberry vines right away at the start of the school year.

"There was quite a bit of regrowth from last year so we first tackled that," Kraynick said. "Once they were all cut back, we removed the root systems so they would not grow back."

The students also created a new trail to provide better access to the area where they were working and to help with stream bank stabilization. Then they planted trees and shrubs that were native to the area and are typical of a spruce-hemlock plant community, such as sitka spruce, red alder, red flowering currant, Douglas spirea and twinberry.

All plants were grown and donated by Go Native.

"We got all the blackberries out and started planting plants," said seventh-grader William Panagakis. "We needed to get rid of invasive species and when we were getting rid of them, we had to get rid of the root balls."

William said they used thick gloves to protect from the thorny briars. 

"We made a path to get down there and I think we're going to expand that and go farther. It's really fun and I like working outdoors," William said. 

Eighth-grader Johnny Helms said he enjoyed putting in the trail because it helps others get down to the creek.

"We're helping the environment by getting rid of invasive plants, then planting trees and shrubs that help it not erode," Johnny said. "People can get down (to the creek) but there's just one plank across and I'd like to fix that.

"I think it's pretty cool and I've learned that there are a lot more invasive plants than I thought and that I should be more careful, because they spread easier than I thought. And I liked being able to get outside and work and help the community and school."

"I liked helping restore the creek. It's looking a lot better than it did," said seventh-grader Kylie Dornath.

"It was fun," said seventh-grader Ukiah Geoffrion. "We cleaned up a lot of slats of concrete and I learned the importance of growing trees and I liked building the path."

Future creek restoration plans include monitoring the site for regrowth of invasives and bank erosion, removal of regrowth and further areas, planting native wildflowers in the spring (also grown at Go Native by HLMS students), and continuing the trail.

Further education plans include more watershed education and use of the newly accessible creek area for scientific investigations.

The students also will be taking a field trip to a local watershed area to see current restoration efforts.

"Upon completion of our grant requirements at the end of this school year, Harbor Lights Middle School will be designated as an Ocean Guardian School," Kraynik said. "We even get a cool banner!"

"I feel that any projects that provide students with outdoor experiences and a sense of accomplishment are valuable," Kraynik added. "This project has allowed students to take ownership of their local watershed while learning about the effects of invasive species firsthand.

"My students should be proud of the work of they have done so far and I hope they realize the positive impact they each can have on their environment."