Giving Back To Nature

By Karen Gardner
MYERSVILLE, MD– Children got down and dirty recently at Myersville Elementary School, but it was for a good cause.

They planted native wildflowers in a formerly grassy area of the school’s grounds, an area students and teachers hope will soon be attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.

The planting is part of the Schoolyard Habitat program in Frederick County schools. This year, the first for the program, culminated in wildflower garden plantings at participating schools. Students at Wolfsville Elementary, Walkersville Elementary and Walkersville High School also are taking part. Next year four more schools will become part of the project, and the following year, three more will sign on.

Teachers and parents dug holes in Myersville’s newly plowed garden, while students planted more than 500 coneflowers, columbine, switchgrass and great blue lobelias. Each child in the school had the opportunity to plant one of the perennials.

Each grade also planted a redbud tree. All of the plants in the school’s gardens are native to this area. Once established, they will not need to be watered and should bloom year after year.

April Wells, schoolyard habitat teacher specialist for Frederick County Public Schools, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded the county a $300,000 grant for the program. The grant pays two half-time salaries for Wells and a biologist from Community Commons, and for materials. Wells said the hardest part of a schoolyard habitat program is getting it started.

“Teachers are so busy,” she said.

The program helps teachers and students learn which plants to place where. The plants chosen for Myersville’s garden need to thrive in a hot, sunny location. They also need to tolerate bouts of rain interspersed with times of drought.

“When people think of habitat, they usually think of big animals,” Wells said.

Bugs, birds, butterflies, reptiles and aquatic life are equally important. Another part of the program will be to put bluebird nesting boxes around the Myersville school grounds.

Carolyn Mark and Debbie Smith, two Myersville teachers, attended a workshop last summer on creating a schoolyard habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation helped to pay for that.

Smith said the students are learning that what they do in the mountains around Myersville affects the Chesapeake Bay, and that improving habitat for birds, insects, reptiles and mammals around Myersville helps the Bay.

“We started with recycling in the fall,” Smith said. “We also planted black-eyed susans around lightpoles.” The state flower spreads easily and tolerates hot, dry conditions once it is established.

“We’ve been teaching about native species, and that they all have a purpose,” Smith said. Pointing to the seedpods of a tree, she said students learn that seeds are food for animals. “It’s a big part of our curriculum.”

“We’re planting plants so there are buffers for chemicals that run down into the ground and clean it so that the runoff won’t hurt the Chesapeake Bay,” said Alison Miller, 9, a third-grader at Myersville. “If we don’t keep the Bay clean, animals will die.”

“We’re planting flowers and grasses so when they grow bees and other animals can use them for nectar,” said Rachel Glessner, 9, also a third-grader. Alison added that the trees will help filter air pollution.

The garden plot was baked clay with rocks two weeks ago when Chuck Houck, a local landscape architect, chopped up the sod. A week later parents added topsoil and mulch to the plot. After the planting, the Myersville Volunteer Fire Company watered the patch.

“We’re hoping to extend the project one day,” said Maureen Nissel, a parent who helped write the grant for the program. She is also an assistant professor for recreation and parks management at Frostburg University.

“My dream is an outdoor classroom, an area where kids can learn, have a weather station and a shelter and learn about their individual impact on the environment,” she said. “Kids are spending more and more time indoors. We want them to become more aware.” –Frederick News Post