The first White Salmon Valley School Board (WSVSB) meeting following the holiday break kicked off with a presentation from eighth-graders at Wayne M. Henkle Middle School.
The student skill center, headed by Jim Anderson, started as an alternative to study hall or detention, where kids who struggle in the traditional classroom can refocus by working on hands-on projects. It has since become a place where all students can learn new skills.
“It’s a way of getting to kids that may be struggling in the classroom from a side door rather than head-on, where they may just shut down. You get the kids moving and working on projects and you will find that they tend to be more open,” said Anderson.
In October, retired WSVSD teacher Doug Miller introduced a project to the skill center where students could build trays for local beekeepers. It was such a success that there is now a growing interest in bee-keeping among the students, and an effort by Miller and Anderson to get observable beehives on the school campus to be studied in the science classes.
“Projects like this can really introduce a lot of different kinds of learning for kids. They can learn about beekeeping as a hobby, they can learn about botany and biology, as well as learn some basic skills like how to use a hammer,” said Miller.
Miller ran a similar program in Lyle in the 1980s.
“We live in such a beautiful place, and I think it is really important that kids get outside to learn about the world around them, especially when learning about science. Beekeeping teaches biology, botany, life, and environmental science, physics, and chemistry,” said Miller.
At the Jan. 24 meeting, five eighth-graders who have participated in the skill building center challenged School Board members to build their own beekeeping trays.
“I go the idea at the very last minute, I thought it would be a great idea for the kids to work with board members on the project so they could get a sense of what the kids were learning, in addition, to see how proud they have become in themselves when they complete a project,” said Miller.
Henkle Principal Haley Ortega also noted that programs like this can encourage students to get more involved in school activities. Of the five students presenting, three are very involved in school activities, while the other two were less participatory until they were encouraged by their peers to participate in the skills building project.
This spring, the students will be visiting an orchard where their beekeeping trays are being donated to see how the bees have an impact on the orchard.
“This will really give the kids a chance to see their hard work put to use,” said Anderson.
Anderson and Miller also advocated to the School Board that there needs to be a woodshop or an arrangement between the high school and middle school to share the woodshop, so that middle school students can learn basic skills in those environments.
“That’s kind of where all of this came from. The kids were learning to use a hammer and nails and I think it is important to know how to hammer a nail straight,” said Miller.