Hands-on learning took on a new dimension this year for dozens of students who designed and installed wildlife habitats on school grounds. Habitat plantings are slightly different than pollinator gardens or vegetable gardens, in that they incorporate native plants to provide yearlong shelter and food for a variety of wildlife, including birds, butterflies, native bees, dragonflies, amphibians, and reptiles.
For some, it meant getting down and dirty as they heaved dirt by the shovelful, digging out obnoxious weeds with deep roots. Others learned skills that at the least will bring in summer spending money and at most get them interested in careers in science or environmental studies. Another reward? The arrival of frog eggs shortly after ponds were put in.
Teams at Gar-Field, Woodbridge, and Forest Park High Schools and the Prince William County Juvenile Detention Center proudly surveyed their handiwork after months of planning and research: leafy green plants large and small, rescued from pots to live amid pungent humus and mulch; irregular flat stones holding back the edge of a diminutive pond soon to be teeming with life.
This fall, each site is scheduled to be designated as a Habitat Partner® of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), and will become outdoor classrooms where students investigate biodiversity, water quality, and environmental stewardship.
Prince William County Public Schools collaborated with the Virginia Cooperative Extension–Prince William Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists, the VDGIF, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create these native species habitats and provide professional development to teachers and volunteers; more projects are planned. Funding is provided by the EPA.
The project at Gar-Field High School is led by Teachers Teresa Kitchen and Cynthia Ardecki and involves Green Club members, IB students, and members of the baseball team. Forest Park High School created its Legacy Garden with assistance from Teachers Teresa Ballou and Mike Dyre, partners Vulcan Quarry and Prince William County Solid Waste Division, Master Gardeners, and an Eagle Scout. Biology Teacher Margaret Evans and members of the Ecology Club are leading the project at Woodbridge High School. At the Juvenile Detention Center, Nsama Okeowo is the lead teacher, with Roman Morris assisting.
The Habitat Partner® Education Outreach Program is led by Carol Heiser of the VDGIF.