Tag Archives: environmental education

Workshops in the COVID-19 Era

Text and photos by Erica Benoit, SPP Workshop Series Coordinator

Unfortunately, the Environmental Workshop Series may be facing the greatest impact of all SPP programs due to COVID-19. While we are proud of the programs’ large crowds, we know that the coronavirus thrives in such environments. In an effort to protect our incarcerated and staff partners, the workshop series has been temporarily paused at all facilities. It is our goal to resume the regular workshop schedule and reschedule canceled workshops once it is safe to do so again.

Just before the shut-down, Fawn Harris brought Princess Remington back to prison.

As a part of our efforts to adapt and evolve, we are also test-driving a remote workshop learning plan at Stafford Creek Corrections Center so workshop students can continue to earn credit towards their workshop certificates. Beginning this month (May 2020), in lieu of in-person workshops, students will be able to watch videos on a specific environmental topic through an in-facility TV channel. In addition to viewing the selected videos, students will be required to reflect on what they learned in writing. Submitting this assignment will earn the equivalent of 1 regular workshop credit. Depending on the success of the remote learning plan, it may be expanded to additional facilities.

Still, we miss the workshops and the in-person interaction and knowledge gained from them. So, please enjoy these images of the last few in-person workshops we had in late February and early May.

Raptors of the Pacific Northwest, Workshop on March 6 at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

Fawn Harris and Michael William Etgen are from West Sound Wildlife Shelter. Fawn used to coordinate one of SPP’s conservation nurseries and she facilitates wonderful workshops! (A photo of her and Princess Remington is at the top of this story.)

An Introduction to Permaculture, Workshop on February 20 at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

Sheilia Canada led a workshop on a sustainable living system that supplies all the needs of humanity while it benefits all creatures on Earth.

Hard to imagine when a class this size will feel safe again.
Following an in-class brainstorm session, a student shares with the class how he applied the zonal model of permaculture to an everyday life scenario.

Climate Crisis Solutions: Healthy Soils & Food Forests, Workshop on February 26 at Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

Julianne Gale, Zephyr Elise, and James Landreth from Mason County Climate Justice led a session on healthy soils and food forests as a potential solution to the climate crisis.

Student Impact Statement

By Graham Klag, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator and MES Student

Graham recently presented on the SPP-supported project at an International Association for Landscape Ecology – North America conference; see his virtual poster here.

The team examines and discusses new root growth; two of the technicians, Ronald Snider and Toby Erhart, seen here with Graham. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) affords Master of Environmental Studies students an endemic and indelible academic and professional-development opportunity. My experience as the Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator for the programs at Stafford Creek and Washington Corrections Center for Women (SCCC and WCCW) gave me the chance to promote my academic and professional passion: promoting the restoration and enhancement of marginalized populations of Pacific Northwest prairie plant communities. While I contributed to the ecological functions of the Pacific Northwest’s most endangered ecosystems, I also learned how to better support the basic human functions of endangered and marginalized populations of people.

Working with incarcerated technicians continually revealed their resourceful creativity and their desire to meaningfully contribute to the society from which they have been disconnected. Masters students such as myself support technicians’ connections to ecological concepts, while we also connect our (my) consciousness to our nation’s culture of incarceration.

In the project, this was the first violet to bloom! Photo by Graham Klag.

My thesis research project uses coconut coir mats for the restoration and enhancement of the early-blue violet (Viola adunca) for the larval development of the Oregon silverspot butterfly. The project has been possible only due to the combination of resources and partnerships that SPP has afforded me. As part of my work coordinating SPP’s Prairie Conservation Nurseries, my position helped me access hoop house space, seed, materials, staff, input, and other resources that have led to the success of my research project. The experience allows me to see the value of project-based adaptive management, scientific research, and education to advance the skills and education of technicians and myself.

The team discusses trials of mat substrate types; Toby Erhart and Bien Van Nguyen are the most-visible technicians. Photo by Shauna Bittle.
SCCC’s place-made prairie; the technician holds the garden’s design template. Photo by Graham Klag.

During my time with SPP, I have learned that this connection to place is a basic human need. While dealing with incarcerated technicians’ unfortunate connection to the place of prison, we fostered their connection to other ecosystems — ones that need our help. The fortune of those rare ecosystems can be found from more and more connections to conservation science.

I see restoration ecology as a place-making process. Through my research design and implementation, technicians and I shared in the scientific method, connecting us to the coastal prairie environments of the Washington and Oregon coast. As part of that process, this year we constructed a prairie garden inside the facility at SCCC; we planted extra prairie plants that we had grown for various restoration sites within the Salish lowlands and created a bit of prairie inside the prison.

At the basis of all life’s functions is the need for connection. My position with SPP combined with my studies provides me a connective power. I wish to share that power with individuals disconnected from our modern society. SPP is a true asset to The Evergreen State College’s mission and core values, providing academic and professional empowerment opportunities to students, staff, and the greater community. I feel lucky to be a part of this special community experience and reflect on human ecology and empathy. I have new insight into how the landscape reflects how we treat each other and the good life of being a Greener.

Graham at the Rock Creek coastal prairie research site with ready-to-plant plugs of early blue violet (Viola adunca), Roemer’s fescue (Festuca roemeri), and coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis). Photo by Rolando Beorchia from Institute for Applied Ecology.

(Before COVID19): Octopus Kicks off the Workshop Series at MCCCW

By Joslyn Rose Trivett and Erica Benoit, SPP at Evergreen
Photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

A Pacific red octopus uncurls its tentacles as it swims back in forth in front of the class at Mission Creek Corrections Center (MCCCW).

One of the best things that we have been a part of in 2020 was the launch of our workshop series at Mission Creek Corrections Center (MCCCW). Hard to believe it was only a month ago — life is so different today than it was then. Our main focus has to be responding and adapting to the COVID 19 crisis, and still it’s important to let ourselves focus on the good and the positive. For the sake of our partners in prison, we want to continue share some of the magic of nature and environmental education inside of prisons and the partners who make it possible. These programs are so valuable and important to us; we can’t wait to continue to support them inside prison as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Here are some of our favorite images from the first SPP Environmental Workshop at MCCCW, Octopus Intelligence. Rus Higley and Joanne Park of the Marine Science and Technology (MaST) Center at Highline College facilitated an excellent session. Of course the real star of the show was the juvenile Pacific red octopus (the same species but a different individual than the one who visited a 2016 workshop at Stafford Creek…the MaST Center releases an octopus back to the wild when its behavior suggests that it is ready to go.)

Christina Flesner studies the octopus…while it studies her back! Can’t know for sure, but Rus Higley made a compelling case for high levels of octopus awareness and smarts.
MCCCW’s Lieutenant visits with the octopus. She has been a solid supporter of other SPP programs at MCCCW as well.
Meg Ward studies a preserved specimen.
Jasmine Sabourin visits with the octopus. Several viewers showed similar happiness in the octopus’ presence.
Two officers stayed for the workshop and appeared to enjoy and appreciate the session as much as the incarcerated students.
Students’ questions were one of the best parts of the workshop. Some of the topics they asked about were how octopuses are affected by pollution (a lot), whether it’s possible to tag and track them (possible and really tricky), whether females can opt-out of reproduction, which is a mortal act (probably not), and the quality of life for octopuses in captivity at the lab.

The second workshop in the series took place only a week later and featured some local predator birds (an owl and a turkey vulture). Although the workshop series is currently on hold at all 3 facilities, we’re looking forward to continuing the series as soon as we can. Once it’s safe to do so, partners plan for the MCCCW series to reoccur on the first Friday of every month.

Hope all of our partners are staying well and safe. We are thinking of you more than ever.

Letter from a graduate: Centralia College Horticulture Program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Letter by a Horticulture Program graduate, courtesy of Scott Knapp, Horticulture Instructor

In 2013, a gardener works next to the pumpkin patch. Photo by Cyril Ruoso.

The Centralia College Horticulture Program at the Cedar Creek Correction Center (CCCC) is a valuable asset to our Communities. It teaches us the many aspects of horticulture such as Basic Botany, Equipment Operations, Composting, Pruning, Vertebrate Pest Management, Basic Entomology, Vegetable Gardening, Plant and Flower Propagation, Lawns and Weeds. These are all sustainable resources and very important in our ongoing endeavors to make the planet a better place.

Horticulture students and TAs cultivate ornamental and pollinator plantings throughout the grounds. This display is from summer, 2018.

This season we grew more than twenty-five thousand annual flowers in our greenhouses and planted them around the facility. In addition we grew 8,000 pounds of fresh garden bounty such as Walla Walla, Red and Candy onions, Blue Lake bush beans, Gold summer squash, zucchini, Beets, Carrots, Broccoli, Cabbage, tomatoes, radishes, apples, Bell peppers and strawberries.

Pumpkins await the Fall Family Fun event.

In addition, we support some of our Family Friendly events —most notably the Fall Family Fun event growing about two hundred pumpkins that the kids got to decorate with their dads, and the spring science fair with the plant a plant booth. These are great events and keep the kids and the dads connected to family.

All students and Horticulture Teaching Assistants (TA’s) in Mr. Knapp’s Horticulture program have earned twenty college credits toward our education in the horticulture industry. This will also assist us in our re-entry efforts when we return to our communities.

We learn how to work with a very diverse group of individuals as well as troubleshoot problems that may arise, not just in horticulture but in life. Accomplishing these things gives us a sense of self-worth and builds our self-esteem. Thank you to the Centralia College Faculty and Staff for making our lives better and helping us make the planet a better place.

Sincerely

Current Horticulture Graduate and Teachers Assistant.

Summer 2018 looked like a good one for growing Brassicas!

First Graduates in 4 Years!

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Graduates from the Roots of Success class proudly display their certificates; from the top left, you see graduates Jill Robinson, Dara Alvarez, Shannon Marie Xiap, Nikkea Marin, Katlynn Draughon, and instructor Chelsey Johnson.

We’re so excited to announce that Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) just graduated their first Roots of Success (Roots) course since 2015! Five students completed the 10-module course, and they are excited to put their education to work, and continue learning more.

These graduates are about to lose their instructor to release, leaving a potential void. The SPP team at Evergreen sees this as a worthy challenge, one that we are happy to address. We have put together a package of supplemental education materials that don’t require a certified instructor: movies, books, and articles that relate to the material presented in the Roots curriculum.

Roots instructor Chelsey Johnson presents
Nikkea Marin with her certificate.

Graduates have the support of MCCCW staff who also want to implement some of the things students learned about in the Roots course. For example, they hope to start working with the folks from TerraCycle to recycle the “non-recyclable” waste the facility generates. We can’t wait to hear about their continued successes – keep up the good work!

A New Innovative Partnership

Text by Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director, The Evergreen State College

Presentation team with WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar (from left to right, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Brian Bedilion, Roger Millar, and Kelli Bush)

Alvina Mao presenting at WSDOT Partnerships and Innovations conference

Over the past year, SPP Evergreen staff have been working with Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Washington Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) partners to develop new opportunities for education and employment pathways. The new partnership has tremendous support from WA Corrections Secretary, Stephen Sinclair, WSDOT Secretary, Roger Millar, and many staff at each agency. Building on successful prison program tours and executive leadership and committee meetings, WSDOT staff invited SPP-Evergreen staff and former SPP program participants to present at two recent conferences.

Each conference presentation included a panel with Carolina Landa and Brian Bedilion sharing their stories from pre-incarceration to post-release, Kelli Bush providing a brief overview of SPP, Alvina Mao and Eric Wolin discussing partnership alignment with WSDOT equity and inclusion goals, and Tony Bush describing education and employment pathway ideas in the environmental field.

The audience for the first conference was WSDOT environmental staff. Session participants enthusiastically expressed their appreciation to Carolina and Brian for sharing their experiences.

Carolina Landa presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

Following a successful session at the environmental conference, the panel received an invitation to present at the WSDOT Innovations and Partnership conference. The 4th Annual Innovations and Partnerships in Transportation conference included a welcome from Governor Inslee and an impressive variety of partner organizations. Our session titled “Forging a new partnership and building safe, strong communities through successful reentry” included productive discussion with attendees.

 

 

 

Brian Bedilion presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

The developing partnership among WSDOT, WA Corrections, SPP and others will provide exciting new education, training, and employment opportunities to incarcerated people in a variety of disciplines. Washington State Governor Inslee is a strong supporter of providing formerly incarcerated people employment as a way to build safer and stronger communities. The Governor signed executive order 16-05 directing state agencies to “implement further hiring policies intended to encourage full workforce participation of motivated and qualified persons with criminal histories.” We are grateful to WSDOT and WA Corrections for providing such excellent support and enthusiasm for this growing partnership.

Conference presentation team (from left to right): Kelli Bush, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Alvina Mao, Brian Bedilion, and Molly Sullivan

SPP’s new Mission Statement

by Kelli Bush, SPP Director for Evergreen

An incarcerated man waves to visitors across the Diversity Garden at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During breeding season, a technician weighs an adult Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. The highly collaborative program is hosted by Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Keegan Curry.

We are so pleased! SPP partners from Evergreen and Washington State Department of Corrections have completed updates to SPP’s mission and vision statements. The new text represents greater emphases on education and change, acknowledgement of current environmental and justice system challenges, values shared by SPP partners, and a more succinct, stand-alone mission statement.

 

Mission: We empower sustainable change by bringing nature, science, and environmental education into prisons.

 

Roots of Success instructors and graduates pose for a class photo at a graduation ceremony. Photo by DOC staff.

Vision: In response to the dual crises of ecological degradation and mass incarceration, we aim to reduce recidivism while improving human well-being and ecosystem health. SPP brings together incarcerated individuals, scientists, corrections staff, students, and program partners to promote education, conserve biodiversity, practice sustainability, and help build healthy communities. Together, we reduce the environmental, economic, and human costs of prisons.

 

We will update our website to reflect these changes in the near future.