Author and Photo by Talking Forests 

On a sunny fall morning, students from Castle Rock High School are briefed by the staff of Mount St. Helens Institute (MSHI) in preparation for a day of learning in not your average classroom. Students have a chance to be in the best classroom of all at MSHI, the outdoors near Mount St. Helens. In the new STEM Field Ecology Program, students from all around our state get the chance to study as citizen scientists.

Ryan Penner's Castle Rock High School students studying terrestrial habitat at Mt. St. Helens.

This exciting adventure brought Castle Rock high school to Mount St. Helens over a weekend of learning and enjoyment from MSHI, US Forest Service, teachers, and natural resource professionals on Sunday, September 24th. We started the morning with introductions in the pavilion overlooking the mountain. Once the gear packs and students were ready, we headed out to the field. Student groups broke up to go study terrestrial and aquatic areas near the mountain. We hiked into our sites and then broke open the gear packs to take samples and measure out the sample plots. The students get to do this on their own with staff and professionals helping them as they need.

Students at the forested terrestrial site area near Mt. St. Helens surveying the area.

One student group named the “pocket gophers” hiked up to a terrestrial site and mapped out the plot to sample from. Their teacher, Ryan Penner, is with them as they navigate how to survey the plot.

Plot survey in the terrestrial area of Mt. St. Helens.

Once the student group gets all the samples and data they need, they write it down on the sheets provided by MSHI and pack up for the next site. The groups rotate in the afternoon which makes it so everyone gets a chance to survey terrestrial or aquatic areas near the mountain.  Student data is compiled from across 6 schools including Castle Rock. Students ask a question of the data and prepare a poster which they present at a student conference. MSHI is giving high school students a chance to be citizen scientists with this outdoor school. This is a great opportunity while Mount St. Helens is still evolving from the eruption in 1980.

Students surveying soil near the plot at the terrestrial area in Mt. St. Helens blast zone.

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