INSIGHT: Engagement and Environmentalism at EPS

By Burton Barrager, Middle School Science Teacher & Advisor

Ever since our school came back to campus post-pandemic, it seems that our community has renewed its commitment and engagement with our environmental values and sustainability aspirations. Pairing education and action, our school is embracing our vision of inspiring students to create a better world.

Students, staff, faculty, families, and our broader Kirkland community are engaged, participating and leading environmental learning, and initiating sustainable initiatives and actions. What follows are many of those initiatives that I am aware of or have been involved in, though I am sure there are many more!

· Service Days at Watershed Park:  faculty & staff in August, 7th & 8th graders in November, and 5th & 6th graders later this month, will work or have worked with Green Kirkland to remove invasive species, primarily scotch broom and Himalayan Blackberry, planted native species, and mulched to create new soil and provide moisture retention.
· 7th Grade Environmental Practices:  students explore and conduct scientific investigations of local forest and stream ecosystems. They wade through streams, identify native flora, and learn about the delicate balance that sustains life.
· 8th Grade Environmental Practices:  students delve into the complex relationship between humans and the planet. They examine environmental challenges such as ocean acidification, deforestation, and pollution—and investigate/propose solutions.
· Upper School Environmental Science Class:  this new year-long course is dedicated to scientific disciplines associated with climate change—ecology, geology, hydrology, oceanography, and atmospheric sciences. Students analyze data, conduct experiments, and engage in critical discussions, which equips them to address real-world environmental issues and incorporate this knowledge into their own lives.
· Outdoor Education at the Fowler Ranch:  from field trips focused on sustainable forestry and student investigations in Environmental Science to snowshoeing and winter camping as part of our Outdoor Education program, we have partnered with an EPS family to use their amazing property located in Cle Elum.
· Middle School Green Club (The Environmental Enthusiasts Club):  students lead change in our cafeteria by educating peers on proper waste sorting, ensuring that our Level 2 Green Schools designation (recycle & reduce) remains intact. Also, eco-brick creations serve as a tangible reminder of our collective impact.
· Upper School Environmental Club:  starting with a grant proposal to clear and restore the riparian zone of Cochran Springs Creek that runs through our campus, they have collaborated with our Head of School and the City of Kirkland to make this a reality that we will hopefully be starting this summer. They have also initiated toy drives (goal: reuse) and alternative transportation weeks (goal: rethink) to further their sustainable goals impact.
· Upper School Coding Group:  harnessing AI technology, our coding enthusiasts developed an app that encourages recycling in Kirkland— RecycleScan.
· Marine Bio Club:  students initiated the idea, purchased supplies, set up, and implemented a coho salmon tank in the middle school. Working with school administration, EPS facilities crew, King County and Washington agencies, and even our tech department to set up a salmon cam. They successfully hatched and raised over 150 salmon that were released into Lake Washington.
· Independent Projects:  senior Addison completed an independent study last year on the ethnobotany of Northwest plants. This has now blossomed into a senior independent project focused on studying the feasibility of planting native plants on campus with the possibility of a new EPS landscape plan, as well as creating information signage to educate our community about the science and indigenous people’s uses of the native plants—ones that already exist, or that she has planted,  on campus.
· Education Beyond the Classroom Week:  each of the following trips had ecology, nature experiences o rsustainability as a focus of their experience:  Orkila, Nature Bridge, Florida Keys, Catalina Islands, Canyoneering, Yellowstone, and Yukon. And, of course, there is the student-initiated EBC Carbon Offset program with Eden Projects.

From 5th-12th grade curricula to independent projects to clubs to student and faculty special interests to family involvement to community partners, our school community is creating a better world. By engaging students through diverse experiences and providing opportunities to explore their own interests, we empower them to be stewards of our planet, creating ripples of change that extend far beyond our campus. I look forward to seeing this level of engagement increase through the vision of our new Head of School and the passion of our EPS community.