Spring, Willows and Science Studies: Shifting Learning Focus into Outdoors

Spring, Willows and Science Studies: Shifting Learning Focus into Outdoors
By sfgs

In our middle school we work on keeping learning relevant and exciting, as these are the years when learning patterns are created for life. Once spring weather arrives it is natural to see our students’ attention shift towards more expansive, outdoor-based, exploratory projects. Spring is the time when working at the School’s environmental science and ecological restoration site, the 9 acre PRESERVE, which lies along the Santa Fe River 15 miles from the School’s urban campus, offers a wonderful opportunity to get out, and to put all that spring energy and youthful enthusiasm into meaningful ecological restoration work.

birds nest



The Santa Fe River has been named one of the most endangered rivers in the U.S. The 7th and 8th grade students work on riparian restoration while studying environmental science at the PRESERVE. Along with gathering data that reflect water quality monitoring efforts, the girls work on bank stabilization and erosion prevention. In addition, they create plant inventory for this unique high desert riparian ecosystem, and observe and study riparian invertebrates that serve as indicators of river’s health.

Come spring, the river comes to life. The water is warmer, and the plant and animal life more visible. The willows planted by generations of SFGS students are sprouting and the riverbanks are greening. This is the perfect time for Project PRESERVE and its young middle school stewards to provide resources for other riparian restoration projects in the area.

middle school student willows

Willows that have been planted by the students at the PRESERVE are of much value when it comes to stream bank stabilization work on other parts of the Santa Fe River, or elsewhere in other high-country watershed. Willows and cottonwoods are easily harvested in the early spring when plants are just beginning to bud, and are then replanted along stream banks as cuttings. This process is called pole planting, and is very inexpensive and successful for broad scale restoration efforts on rivers in the region. The PRESERVE is now a dependable source of willow cuttings for other riparian projects that are undertaken by other organizations.

willow cuttings

The School is collaborating with The WildEarth Guardians of New Mexico, a state chapter of the national organization, which works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers and health of the American West. A Wild Earth Guardians field team came out to the PRESERVE to see the school’s work, and to harvest willow cuttings from our own thriving willow grove.

Fifteen SFGS students and the WildEarth Guardians field team harvested 300 bundles of live willow cuttings that were promptly placed in water, and relocated to their new home in the Galisteo Basin. Reid Whittlesey, a restoration ecologist from the WildEarth Guardians, coordinated this ecological effort.

willow cuttings erosion control