Down-to-earth 6th-graders see project bloom

Earth Day: Sykesville Middle School pupils find that a concerted effort by their science, math, reading and language arts classes can create a natural beauty.

April 22, 1999|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

When the dismissal bell rings at Sykesville Middle School this afternoon, there will be five new gardens around the building, planted with care by sixth-graders hoping to make the grounds a friendlier place for birds, butterflies and small animals.

This effort is a celebration of Earth Day, and the culmination of a project that began in science classes last fall and has continued this year in other classes, too.

The Schoolyard Habitat Project is one reason Sykesville Middle has been designated one of the state's 34 Governor's Green Schools -- along with New Windsor Middle and South Carroll High in Carroll -- for stressing sound environmental practices in the curriculum and in the school's daily operation.

"You're going to be in mulch. You're going to be in dirt. You are going to get pretty filthy," Carrie Ray cautioned her sixth-grade science class yesterday as they made last-minute plans and designed Earth Day T-shirts to wear during the celebration.

But the more than 130 sixth-graders involved in the project know all about the hazards -- and joys -- of working with the good earth and the details of pulling off a project this large.

The pupils collected $600 in nickels, dimes and pennies left over from lunch money and raised $1,300 in grants to buy plants and materials. They studied the soil and growing conditions at their school, researched the kinds of plants that would grow there and designed the gardens they're planting today.

It all began when the students discovered, through a class assignment, that their school grounds were largely unfit for wildlife, said Ray, who introduced the project. The students decided to try to reverse that situation by planting gardens to attract little creatures.

There will be a butterfly garden and a hummingbird garden among the plots and a bluebird trail marked by birdhouses the pupils made. There will also be a wildflower garden and prairie and meadow plots that pupils are starting from seed. In all, the gardens will take up about 16,000 square feet, Ray said.

"We're helping treat the ground so that it's a better place for animals," said 11-year-old Shanyce Myers. "We have all this land and it's not in use. I think it's good."

Her classmate, Ashley Valonis, liked the project because "you got to learn stuff and do stuff. It's not one of those kindergarten things that you say you are going to do," but don't, she added.

Ray and other teachers like the project, too, not only because their pupils got involved and learned a lot, but also because it cut across all subjects.

In math, the pupils took measurements and plotted the gardens, plant by plant, on graph paper. In reading, they honed their research skills and, in language arts, they prepared presentations of their garden designs, used those presentations to practice proper spelling, grammar and sentence structure and wrote grant proposals for money.

"This is an authentic project. They actually had to go out," said Ray. "It's been so much fun. It gives these kids a sense of worth."

The project has spawned an ecology club whose members will water the garden before school and even over summer vacation and prepare the garden for winter when fall comes. It has drawn the interest of other pupils, who have pitched in with work.

"It's a project that just grew and grew and grew," said language arts teacher Patti Shovlin. "If only our gardens will do as well."

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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