Friday morning was cool and damp, but nine students from West Albany High’s community transitions program were unfazed as they planted 100 lupine, snowberries, native roses, juncus and carex into a bioswale at Teloh Calapooia Park.
The 12-acre park is at 5950 Looney Lane S.W.
The plants are being used to fend off invasive reed canary grass that is killing off native species in the bioswale — a specially designed area that holds water in heavy rains and releases it slowly, decreasing soil erosion.
There are 32 students in the community transitions program that provides work and lifeskills training for 18- to 21-year-old special needs students who have graduated from South or West Albany high schools.
“Because their peers are no longer in school, our students’ peers are the community,” instructor Rachel Stalter said.
The program has existed for nearly 20 years. For the last three years, the city of Albany parks department has been a major partner.
“The city is very supportive of our program,” Stalter said. “We have cleaned parks and worked at the community garden. It’s good work and the students learn vocational skills and daily life skills.”
Roland Vann, 19, says he an indoor kind of guy, but he wasn’t shy about getting his hands dirty. He was teamed up with Ashley Eby, 19, as they unpotted and planted lupine.
Vann said he sometimes helps his grandmother with her garden and Eby said she enjoys the teamwork part of the project.
Meghan Chuites of the city’s parks staff, instructed the students about how to take plants out of pots without damaging their roots and dig properly-sized holes.
She said it was important the plant’s roots were free to absorb nutrients and grow.
“The reed canary grass grows quite tall and shades out the native plants,” Chuites said of the problem. “It also takes nutrients from the soil that the native plants need. By adding these plants, we hope to push out the canary grass.”
Wade Burrese, also works in parks maintenance and called the partnership, “awesome.”
“I learn from them and hopefully, they learn how to be productive workers from me,” Burrese said. “They work with me two half-days a week, on Tuesday and Thursday.”
Substitute teacher Mary Jo Ten Pas said students also learn how to write a resume, fill out a job application, show up to work on time, have a good attitude, dress appropriately and be respectful in the work place.
They also work at the Mennonite Village, Teen Challenge, Habitat Restore, Food Share/Gleaners and LBCC bookstore.
Ten Pas said the program also has expanded to the city’s public works department. Her husband Tom works with students at the city’s Talking Water Gardens.
Instructional assistant Becky Argetsinger, has worked with the transitions program for 15 years.
“We give students opportunities they would never have,” Argetsinger said.
The program is looking for more volunteer opportunities. To learn more, call 541-926-3598.