CASEE: 20 and growing strong (with video)

Battle Ground site embraces hands-on science education

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



If you go

• What: 20th anniversary of the Center for Agriculture, Science and Environmental Education.

• When: 5 to 7:30 p.m. today.

• Where: CASEE, 11104 N.E. 149th St., Brush Prairie.

• Cost: Free, public event.

• Information: 360-885-5361.

• On the Web:

photoCaitlin Moore, 14, foreground, and Madelyn Groth, 14, students at the Center for Agriculture, Science and Environmental Education in the Battle Ground school district, get hands-on experience in pruning trees at the center's arboretum on 80 acres in Brush Prairie.

(/The Columbian)

photoRod Hallman takes his students to the campus arboretum Tuesday for a hands-on science lesson. CASEE celebrates 20 years at a public event this evening

(/The Columbian)

They hope to become foresters, conservationists, marine biologists and oceanographers. Once a week, these future scientists leave their classroom at the Center for Agriculture, Science and Environmental Education and head outside for a hands-on science lesson.

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, CASEE students in Rod Hallman's class brandished pruners, loppers, rakes and heavy-duty gloves to prune trees and attack blackberry brambles in the arboretum on 80 acres at CASEE. Their outdoor lesson also provided an opportunity for students to spruce up the grounds for CASEE's 20th anniversary celebration this evening.

"It's a cool place to go to school," Hallman said, then stopped to instruct students how to prune a tree with branches growing too close to the ground.

"See this big tree here? See how high up its branches start?" Hallman asked. "That's where we want this tree's branches to be."

The students with pruners nodded and began cutting the low-hanging branches.

Beyond cows, plows

In September 1993, CASEE opened with 40 students and two instructors. Today, 138 CASEE students experience hands-on science and experimental science as they're instructed by Hallman and fellow Battle Ground teachers Richard Hogg, Irene Catlin and Chris Collmer.

In 1984-85, when Battle Ground High School revised its agriculture curriculum, teachers Tim Hicks and Mark Watrin envisioned students no longer studying traditional agriculture of cows and plows, but instead studying science and environmental science.

These days, students from Battle Ground High School and Prairie High School each weekday attend classes at their home school for half a day and the other half at CASEE to study biology, natural resources, horticulture, food science, chemistry, biology and English.

Some days students are in the classroom, but on other days they don rubber barn boots and heavy work gloves to learn in their outdoor classroom. Each week students work up to 90 minutes on the site, maintaining trails, working in the greenhouse, harvesting apples or planting seedlings they've propagated from cuttings.

"We use the 80 acres to put those lessons to practice," said Margaret Bessert, CASEE facilitator.

Working in the rain in the arboretum, Hallman instructed students on pruning and identified a tangle of invasive blackberry brambles to be removed. Within minutes, students had piled branches and weeds onto a green John Deere Gator. Other students drove the rig to the school's compost berm.

Visitors today will celebrate 20 years of environmental education at CASEE and to tour the grounds.

"We've discussed (the center's) reputation," Hallman said, looking around at the order being created by his students "When you do something good, it shines on everyone else."

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4530;;