What’s more fun for kids than digging around in the dirt? The only thing that can top that for some children is making it a part of the school curriculum like it is at Seton Catholic School.
Nestled into a tiny corner of the back side of the building is a quaint little garden. But it’s not just your typical plot. All of the plants are functional year-round, providing food for a host of animals including birds, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels and butterflies.
The garden was recently declared a National Wildlife Habitat, and through a collaborated effort with Allegheny College, the little haven will soon experience a growth spurt, much like the fifth-graders who are in charge of its care.
At the helm of the expansion project is Ali Trunzo, an environmental studies student at Allegheny College.
“I think that this project provides children with a unique, hands-on, exploratory learning opportunity that I never had as a child,” Trunzo said. “It fosters learning and encourages students to care about nature, the environment and even each other.”
The project just sort of “fell into” Trunzo’s lap following a conversation with Richard Bowden, a professor of environmental science at Allegheny College. Bowden said he needed someone he could “count on.”
“There’s a great deal of collaboration necessary in this project,” Bowden said. “And one day I was talking to Ali and I said, ‘Boy — do I have a project for you!’ ”
In addition to Allegheny College, Seton Catholic School is also partnering with Ernst Conservation Seeds and the Presque Isle Audobon Society to transform a barren spot of land to a place where there will soon be flowers and a place where animals will thrive. The project is funded through private donations.
“The new area will feature native wildflowers which will serve as a source of pollinators for hummingbirds and hummingbird moths, as well as all kinds of “good” insects.” Bowden said. “The flower garden will also provide a varied food source for different animals, and, besides all of that, they will just beautiful to look at!”
Marcia Carone, the fifth-grade teacher at Seton who began the project about 10 years ago, is really excited at the prospect of having an even bigger living laboratory of natural science so accessible to her students. She and “last year’s garden caregivers,” who are now sixth-grade students, have been showing the ropes to the incoming fifth-grade students.
Adena Bowden, 11, a sixth-grade student and daughter of Richard Bowden, said she’s ready to pass the torch.
“I’ve been explaining to them (the fifth-grade students) how to make the environment healthy for the birds and other animals,” she said. “By keeping the area clean and free from litter, animals will want to continue staying here.”
She said she also learned to care for the garden from the fifth-grade students who preceded her, and is happy to “pass on that knowledge.”
Trunzo has already begun setting the wheels in motion for the project. In addition to mobilizing volunteers, she has been trying to synchronize the hands and the resources.
“I’ve been trying to arrange a schedule of delivery of the materials such as compost, topsoil, seeds, shrubs and hay or straw,” she said. “It’s also important to coordinate those deliveries with people who show up to help.”
According to Carone, the project began as a bird sanctuary, but, little by little, student interest and private donations have allowed the space to evolve into an all-out wildlife habitat providing four basic elements: food, water, cover and places for animals to raise their young.
The project does not end with its construction. According to Carone, it requires attention year-round.
“We have to maintain the trees, shrubs and evergreens and even the nesting boxes which provide homes for the animals,” she said. “It’s a small space, but if you examine the vertical layers, it is a place where 16 to 18 different species of wildlife peacefully coexist.”
It’s all “for the birds” and to encourage them to return each year, Carone said they even heat the water in the bird baths.
Bailey Pearson, 10, is just one of the 10 Seton School fifth-graders who is now learning how to care for the wildlife habitat adjacent to their classroom.
“I’m excited about this project because I think it’s fun to fill up the bird feeders,” Pearson said. “And because I really love animals (she’s an aspiring primatologist), I’m anxious to learn how to care for them and to make a home for them that they will continue coming back to.”
Penni Schaefer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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