Pictured on the left is an Ecologist, Jean Epiphan, of the Center for Urban Restoration Ecology at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Pictured on the right is her student assistant, Kiani Phillips, whose major is Veterinary Science at Rutgers.
They were protecting an experimental ‘eco-friendly’ patch of greenery that were planted earlier this year in a New York beach community, that had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy three years ago. With many plant species either destroyed, damaged or depleted, the goal of this experiment is to replenish indigenous, naturally grown or compatible flowers and plants to the environmental landscape. So they brought in plants that are typically known to thrive in beach communities with lots of sand-mixed soil and marshy shoreline areas. Specifically chosen are flower-producing sustainable plants that will attract insects such as butterflies, and even bumblebees for pollination. Other wildlife preservation was also taken into consideration prior to planting these new species, as well.
School projects assigned in conjunction with Science, Biology, or Social Studies classes, can easily adopt this type of experiential, community service connected learning into the curriculum. It is positive, collaborative service connected and project-based learning that’s perfect for k-12 schools. Added component to these project types should include, involve and collaborate with parents!
I experienced an ‘aha’ moment after speaking with Ms. Epiphan. What they were doing was an ‘experiment’ of sorts. Under a federal grant, and the consent of Parks and Recreation Department, the aim was to restore natural plants to an area where the indigenous flora was displaced, disrupted and significantly depleted by the “super storm”. The really technical aspects of this project, though necessary in planning, is not center to my takeaway.
This restoration project IS project learning, and family friendly. About two blocks away from this location is a K-8 community school, and when activities of this or similar nature are being conducted by outside entities, school leaders, teachers and staff should be mindful to take special interest in the scope of work being done. If practical and permissible by all in authority, strategize goal implementation so that students can help restore or improve upon the community in which they live.
Students can earn grades or credits for their efforts, perform community service to beautify their neighborhood, become fully engaged and OWN their learning. With that ownership comes many other perks, too.
When you have put in hard work to ‘clean-up’ your environment, it can change perspectives and influence future behaviors within that environment. So, in neighborhoods where there are vacant lots that need cleaning, a whole community- whole school effort can get the job done.
Academically sound planning will highlight its intrinsic value and solid foundation upon which the lessons and assignments are developed. Besides, after completion, neighborhood pride and a sense of ownership develops and everyone becomes more protective of their environment also.
The biggest takeaway from this for me, was that projects like this encourages family and community engagement. Involvement in the school community can and should include parents, as integral to service learning. An extremely collaborative thinker would also design a project that would incorporate a whole community effort towards supporting student learning outcomes and align with its mission, too.
What a way to spruce up a neighborhood-it’s all in!
The ultimate takeaway: it’s family-friendly!