• Gaiser students and volunteers at Tenny Creek Park
  • Student poses next to vines pulled from Tenny Creek Park
  • Gaiser students and National Junior Honor Society members
  • Gaiser students clear dead vines from park

Nearly 40 students from Gaiser Middle School descended on Tenny Creek Neighborhood Park on an overcast June morning. For several months, the park has been an outdoor classroom and an opportunity for students to serve their community. Their mission: monitor water quality and remove English ivy.

Eighth-grader Will Popkes is well aware of the ivy. “I come down here a lot. It kind of bothers me a little bit that it’s there and it’s not supposed to be,” he said. Popkes explained that the ivy can grow up trees and choke them, as well as draw water from native plants.

The students’ ivy eradication—an estimated 12 cubic yards between just two recent outings—augments sustained efforts by Clark County Public Works and other volunteers. Gaiser is the first school to partnership with the county in a longer-term capacity, and the students will provide recommendations to the county regarding ongoing ivy management at the park.

Gaiser environmental science teacher Jacque Luna wanted her students “to be in the environment around them and learn how to alleviate their footprint,” she said. She wanted them to learn about native and invasive species and collect scientific data in nature.

To pay for supplies and related costs, Luna secured a $2,600 grant from the Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools. In collaboration with Volunteer Program Assistant Dora Hernandez of Clark County Public Works, Luna  selected sites that were familiar to her students. In addition to cleaning up Tenney Creek Neighborhood Park, students planted native species at the Curtin Springs Wildlife Habitat.

“I hear them talking about the environment and how they want to do something good,” said Hernandez.

Benefiting the environment and community through environmental work has long been a focus at Gaiser. Recently, Gaiser achieved the nonprofit Washington Green Schools’ highest level of certification for the second consecutive year. The school’s platinum status indicates that it has made big strides in six categories: waste and recycling, energy, transportation, healthy school buildings, water and school grounds.

The approximately 15 students in Gaiser’s National Junior Honor Society and their adviser, Dr. Charlene Shea, planned a comprehensive approach to achieve their goals in the certification areas. They increased healthy eating by 30% by offering classmates samples of nutritious foods including jicama sticks. They also reduced idle times for buses and cars by 10%, reminded staff to turn off lights when not in use, identified water leaks in restroom fixtures and removed recyclable bottles and cans from the garbage. Next they plan to plant an Armstrong maple tree in front of the school.

“The students are very encouraging about keeping it green,” said eighth-grader Lexi Frates.

And their efforts extend even farther.

The National Junior Honor Society spent more than 150 hours last summer to harvest two tons of produce for the Clark County Food Bank.

For the last 10 years, the school has adopted a nearby area once clogged with blackberry bushes that now serves as a living laboratory for native trees, grasses and roses.

The Gaiser cross-country teams regularly pick up trash around the campus.

Students say that the work connects them to their school and lifts everyone’s spirits. “It’s nice to see how much our school has changed in a positive way throughout the year,” said eighth-grader Holly Brown.

She added, It’s really nice to be involved.”