James di Properzio, left, and Robert Eisenberg, right, were among parents of Siskiyou School students who removed invasive plants from Clay Creek Tuesday as part of the school's observance of Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, which falls on Sept. 29 and is often used to mark the beginning of fall. - Jim Craven

Ashland school's families tidy up park

ASHLAND — Parents and pupils at Siskiyou School marked the arrival of fall Tuesday by building a new playground, planting flower bulbs for next spring and pulling weeds at a city park.

Amid gathering clouds, Linda Chesney of Ashland's Parks and Recreation Department showed parents how to separate indigenous plants from the invasive blackberry vines, prickly lettuce, giant clover, barnyard greens and curly dock crowding the banks of tiny Clay Creek. Moms and dads went at the task with vigor, and the stream finally emerged from a thick blanket of brambles and weeds.

Students and parents also plan to develop a community vegetable garden, which will be open to all neighbors. Breaking lawn sod into garden plots will be done by students, teachers and neighbors later this fall.

Steve Sendar, the president of the school's board of directors, said taking on a community garden and taking care of the creek is "a wonderful opportunity for us to reach out into the community and to fulfill that part of our mission to serve not just our children and families, but the community at large."

The environmental restoration project will eventually be tended by children as they learn from teachers and park staff, said school administrator Catherine Razi.

Siskiyou School is a private enterprise based on the Waldorf model of education developed by Rudolf Steiner at the beginning of the 20th century. Steiner believed that education should help each child develop his or her innate talents and abilities.

Scheduling the project on Sept. 29, the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, also known as Michaelmas, allowed students to incorporate a cultural and religious element into the day's lesson. The archangel Michael figures in many European cultures as a protector against the coming dark days of winter. In some traditions, he slays a dragon, The students performed a dragon slaying so convincingly that one toddler ran screaming from the room in terror.

Between rounds of pulling grass and cutting down tall weeds, parents said caretaking the much-neglected creek would benefit the school, neighborhood and the natural world.

"We planted all these native species with (city) parks and rec earlier," said Alison Chandler. "It's great to see it coming out. The blackberries were as tall as your head."

"We want to give a helping hand where needed," said parent Robert Eisenberg.

"It's been a cooperative effort with parents since the inception (of the school on the Clay Street site four years ago)," said James do Properzio.

Nate Sanford, a parent who's a landscape architect, supervised the setting of posts for a fence and an obstacle course on the playground. He said the idea behind the equipment was not just to put in slides and swings, but to construct a course that fosters motor development.

Razi, the school superintendent, said, "All this is a celebration of work and play, the coming of fall and winter, with a lot of story, a lot of fun and community, as children are brought the image of fall as facing the dragon of darkness."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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