Friday Harbor High School students lend a hand to the community

A small classroom is making a big difference in the community.

High school teacher Jenny Wilson has been leading a community projects class. She is in her 11th year with Friday Harbor High School and has been a teacher for 40 years.

“It’s great for the students to do something nice for the world,” Wilson said of the class.

Students can choose from three categories for their projects: animals, people or environment. These assignments are intended to be fruitful for the student, their peers and the community. This year, there were more students who chose the people category than anything else, with the environment second and animals last.

One student, Isabella VanderYacht volunteered at Island Haven Animal Sanctuary for her animal project.

The sanctuary is essentially a retirement home for animals. The animal she worked most closely with was an Icelandic horse named Glo. VanderYacht ended up researching Icelandic Horses extensively to determine what kind of specialized care would be best suited for her, with sanctuary founder Julie Duke as her mentor for the project.

“I really enjoyed being able to work hands-on with the horses,” she said. “I learned so much about what it is like to work on a farm and how to work with horses. I had no previous experience working with horses, but now I feel really comfortable around these animals.”

The Animal Sanctuary opened five years ago, and according to VanderYacht, they are short of volunteers, which keeps them from bringing in as many animals as they would like. VanderYacht continues to volunteer for Island Haven although her project is complete.

Mason Clark and Tristan Cullen chose to dig up the history of graves on San Juan Island.

For Clark’s project, titled “History Under San Juan Island,” he partnered with the San Juan History Museum and made Instagram posts about the people of the island in order to get more eyes on the project.

Both Clark and Cullen said that they enjoyed working with the museum as their mentor, as they got to see private artifact rooms to gain insight, along with going to gravesites on the island to find out more about specific people who resided on the island prior to the Pig War.

“We decided to pick this topic because of our realization that we, our classmates, and other adults of the island barely knew anything about the people who lived here long before us,” he wrote in his project reflection. “The farthest down history we’ve been told about was about the Pig War so we were hoping to expand on people before them.”

During their research, Clark came across a man named William Rosley. He had access to letters he had written, portraying colorful stories of the island long ago- one story even mentioned elk and him being chased by wolves on the island.

“It was cool that we were first able to teach ourselves this history,” said Cullen. “And then extend that knowledge to friends, classmates, and parents.”

The island gained 200 new willow trees thanks to Rian McElrath and Sterling Mustain’s project, “Willows for the Watershed.” They both worked with the San Juan Island Land Bank to gain information on trees and irrigation. They discovered that willow trees — when planted in the ground with the bud facing upward from the stake — are a simple way to plant new trees along with being one of the most efficient ways to treat areas with poor irrigation. She and Mustain wanted to especially focus on the Zylstra lake area.

“Trees are one of the most important ways of fighting climate change above the ocean,” McElrath wrote.

Both team members are excited to watch the trees grow and become stronger at helping with irrigation. McElrath’s goal was originally 40 trees, but she enjoyed her project so much that she kept planting.

“It was so fun to go out and plant the stakes,” said McElrath. “It just gave us such a sense of accomplishment.”

Other honorable mentions in the class include Mario Gonzalez, who worked with a local artist to create a new coloring book of the animals and nature around the island; Hermy Aguayo, who volunteered at the local food bank; Jaida Cruz and Lupe Melendez who taught a class at the elementary school about composting and rejuvenated the compost bins at the elementary school; Arianna TuckerBelt, who created an elementary school mediating project; Jaxson Waldron who raised money to purchase new speakers for the school gym; Alex Rude and Adam Strasbourger, who created a safe space/ escape room for elementary school students; Sofia Duke and Haley Rennick, who tutored middle school students in math; Fela Andrews and Betty Furber, who organized a toy drive; Angel Diaz and Wade Knapik who raised money and awareness for Humane Borders; Shelby Mullin, who created a website for to help advertise music teachers available on our island; Thea Flierl, who created 200 new bookmarks for the school library; Ayana Berube who built and shipped off a solar kit to Africa; Eric Corbin and Gleb Caireac who created a trail from the Roche Harbor Sculpture Park to the rest of the resort; Jordan Gustafson, who raised money for GoGoGrandmas; and Jason Levasheff, who raised money and built a new ledge at the local skate park.

“It can be really stressful,” said Wilson. “But when they get to the end and are presenting what they did and realizing what they’ve accomplished, it is just one of the best things ever.”