There were bright smiles on the faces of Paradise Intermediate’s middle-schoolers as they posed in front of their school’s new habitat garden. The students’ enthusiasm for what they’d created, under the guidance of their terrific science teacher, Marc Kessler, was so much fun to see and be around.
Kessler helped the students celebrate their accomplishment at an Earth Day ceremony on April 20 at the garden. Altacal Audubon was present at the ceremony to certify the students’ new garden as Neighborhood Habitat. Altacal’s Neighborhood Habitat Program provides education, support, and ‘certification’ for local residents implementing wildlife stewardship and water conservation features into their gardens.
"There's a lot of community support for restoring needed bird and pollinator habitat," said Altacal Audubon's Melinda Teves, who coordinates the Neighborhood Habitat project. "The Neighborhood Habitat Certification Program has about 260 members with 75 fully certified habitat gardens now."
At the ceremony, students recounted all of the wildlife visitors that had already discovered the native landscaping, including two nesting Western Bluebirds (which were later perched on the fence behind their nesting box) and monarch butterflies.
“Several students ran into the classroom really excited when they discovered caterpillars in the garden,” Kessler said.
The garden was created using project-based learning strategies. That means that the design and implementation were student-driven. Students did the research, divided up tasks (some doing the digging, some preferring to do planting, some choosing to direct the crowd-sourcing for purchases, etc.)
One of the students proudly explained, “I got the bird bath.”
They incorporated grade-level science standards and then went beyond. They even integrated social studies into their science by recalling that traditional Chinese gardens used terracing. Since the school garden was on a slope, this knowledge proved useful.
Kessler’s intention is for the garden to become a continual source of learning. Students will collect data on plant growth (phenology, which is the monitoring of plant blooms to measure climate change), wildlife visits, and more.
Shortly after the ceremony, he was kneeling over a milkweed plant pointing out foraging bees to students who’d happily gathered around. “They’re actually getting honeydew from all of these aphids, not the plant yet. It hasn’t bloomed.”
The garden of course has presented a few challenges as well as rewards (part of the learning experience). Twice, the garden has been vandalized. But Kessler, who grew up in a neighborhood with vandalism, prepared the students to immediately repair their garden and prevent vandals from getting any notoriety. This has been a lesson in resilience.
So much learning has taken place with this project, most importantly according to Principal Reiner Light, it has been “empowering” for the students. These are students who will grow up knowing they can make a positive difference in their community, in the world, and in their own and others’ lives.
This article was contributed by Altacal Audubon.