By Monicia Warner

The Bulletin

With a $5,000 grant and plenty of helping hands at their disposal, Bear Creek Elementary students have helped bring new life to recently renovated Ponderosa Park.

What started out as a bilingual-sign project, created by second-grade dual-immersion students at Bear Creek, turned into something bigger when they received a grant in February as part of Lowe’s Toolbox for Education program. The school was the only school in Central Oregon and one of seven in Oregon to receive a grant.

“They wanted a budget breakdown,” said Susan Henry, a Bear Creek PTO member. “We wrote (it) for raised beds, bird and bat houses and plants. I magically made it come up to $5,000.”

The kids have spent the past few months implementing these nature projects and more in conjunction with the Bend Park & Recreation District, Deschutes National Forest and the Deschutes Children’s Forest, among others. Each grade got the opportunity to create a project for the park on Southeast 15th Street and the nearby school grounds.

“Originally, it was just going to be one grade, one set of signs,” said Bear Creek Principal Anissa Wiseman. “When we received the grant, we started talking with our staff about how we could use this to enhance our school. The vision of the grant, how it was written, is that we would develop additional learning spaces.”

Kinsey Martin, a second-grade dual-immersion teacher at Bear Creek, said all of the projects, including the signs her class created, took most of the year but have provided great learning opportunities for the kids.

“It’s so convenient and a great way to tie in math and science,” Martin said. “They’re just natural scientists, and it fits right in with what they love to do.”

Katie Chipko, a coordinator with the Deschutes Children’s Forest, had previously approached the school about participating in the forest’s NatureHood program, which seeks to get kids outside and connect them with nature.

According to Chipko, it was a natural progression to use the funds to create more nature projects at the park.

“Our organization is all about getting kids outside and addressing ‘nature deficit disorder,’” she said. “A lot of the projects were things we had never done before. Deschutes National Forest had wildlife biologists and botanists that came and helped us plant a pollinator garden and decide how to build bat boxes and things like that.”

Kindergartners built steppingstones with animal prints; first-graders created herb, pollinator and flower gardens; second-graders painted and helped construct bird and bat houses; third-graders helped design a lending library built by the woodworking class at Summit High School; fourth-graders designed and helped paint a mural on the play set at the park; and fifth-graders planted a vegetable garden on school grounds.

Penelope Schaan and Kaylee Dildine, both 8-year-old second-grade dual-immersion students, worked on the bilingual signs for native plants and animals at the park. Penelope worked on a sign describing a juniper tree; Kaylee worked on a sign describing a ponderosa pine.

“We got to collaborate with other kids and with the school, and now it’s for the community,” said Penelope. “It took a lot of work as a team, and we made new friends.”

Sierra Sanchez, 10, and Elsa Hammer, 9, both fourth-graders, worked on the play-set mural.

“Our class did the orange coat,” Elsa said. “We did three coats and a professional artist came and did the black coat.”

“It’s showing nature and different animals,” Sierra said. “It was very fun.”

Emery Hammer, 7, a second-grader at Bear Creek, said she really enjoyed working on the bat houses.

“We had a special guest come to our school to talk about bats, and then we went outside to look at places that would be good for bat houses to be hung up,” Emery said. “I like how all the classes took field trips to look around and find good places for things. You could say it was a long process.”

Sue Jorgenson, recreation and enrichment manager with the Bend Park & Recreation District, credited the school with creating an exciting partnership and helping to further enhance the recent renovation at Ponderosa Park.

“This is a really well-planned, organized effort,” she said. “Not only is it something they’ve created but they were able to use resources in the community, experts in the community to further their education.”

Principal Wiseman said they’ve used the bulk of the grant money, but have saved some of the funds to spend on classroom materials and supplies. She hopes that students, their families and community members will recognize and appreciate the teamwork and effort put into the various projects.

“It’s a space for families to come and use when the kids aren’t in school and have really quality family time,” she said. “It’s also neat that it brings our whole staff together and kind of creates something special that our school created and developed and will continue to use.”

—Reporter: 541-633-2117,