Last updateTue, 19 Sep 2017 5pm


Ventana students spearhead native grassland revival at Redwood Grove

OF SARA BOADWEE Ventana School teacher Harfijah Oliver and her students discuss ways to identify different grasses at Redwood Grove. Pictured are, clockwise from bottom: Jack Merrifield, Payton Eike, Oliver, Weston Little, Tessa Calado, Ben Lamm, Ryan Merrifield and Julie Towner.

In a corner of Redwood Grove Nature Preserve, clumps of Purple Needlegrass grow for the first time in years, due to the efforts of third- and fourth-graders from Ventana School in Los Altos.

The project launched in September when their teacher, Harfijah Oliver, challenged students to consider the questions “Who am I?” and “Who are we?” Teachers at Ventana build curriculum around big, open-ended ideas that students explore throughout the year, and that often inspire in-depth projects.

Oliver’s “big ideas” – and the numerous class bike rides and hikes to the preserve – led students to investigate how they might connect with the community via service at Redwood Grove.

The class met with Junko Bryant and Missy Pinney of the environmental group Acterra’s stewardship program and learned that they could help restore native grassland species – perennials whose long roots store carbon, capture rainwater and recharge groundwater. The grass once thrived throughout the Bay Area, and local Native Americans used it in their medicines, according to third-grader Weston Little.

“At the beginning of the year, there was lots of dust and dead things – it wasn’t very pretty,” said third-grader Nate Stickeler, describing the area for revitalization.

After some research, the class decided to obtain seedlings and grow grass in their classroom.

“It was hard,” Little said. “We had to know when to water and when not to water.”

The bunchgrass and California poppies failed to thrive. Next, they tried planting them in beds outside the classroom and experienced more success.

Through the project, students studied the scientific method and learned how to record air and soil temperatures, measure water amounts and gauge the best lighting for specific plants. They later discovered another variable: Seeds grow best when planted in bunches, allowing them to develop a tight root structure.

In the fall and early winter, students planted seedlings in the preserve. Now they are helping the plants grow by weeding out the non-native species.

“I love that this group is visiting the park regularly,” Bryant said. “They will get to observe their plants grow and hopefully feel like they had a real impact on this space.”

For more information on Acterra, visit acterra.org/stewardship.

For more information on Ventana School, visit ventanaschool.org.

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