Kids take to Planting Day

Project: Talbott Springs Elementary pupils put in ground cover, butterfly bushes, flowers, grass and about 50 native trees to improve the environment.

May 01, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was the kind of spring morning that makes people say, "It's a shame to be indoors." While many schoolchildren might have spent their class time daydreaming about being outside, the classrooms were empty at Talbott Springs Elementary School one day last month. Every child was out enjoying the warm weather.

The Columbia school's first Planting Day was April 17, and Marijane Monck, a Gifted and Talented Program resource teacher, hopes to make it an annual event.

"There's an excitement generated, and the kids just loved it," Monck said.

Assistant Principal Paul Norfolk brought the idea of Planting Day with him from his previous school, Waverly Elementary in Ellicott City. One goal, Norfolk said, is "getting students to make decisions about their environment."

Monck and a small group of fifth-graders drew up a plan to improve the schoolyard habitat. That plan became reality when the Chesapeake Bay Trust awarded the school a $1,000 grant for ground cover, butterfly bushes and planting supplies.

The PTA allotted additional money for the improvements, which included repairing erosion and planting about 50 trees native to Howard County. Some plants and trees were donated by the state Department of Natural Resources. Others were bought at reduced cost through a state program for improving public grounds.

"In a couple of years, it'll be like a whole little miniforest," said PTA President Lois Bailey. Near the line of trees, the school is establishing a "no-mow zone" to give native plants and wildflowers a chance to grow.

First-graders planted daylilies near the school's front entrance. Kindergarten classes reseeded an area of bare ground in front of the building. The children put up signs that read, "Baby grass is growing."

Brianna Warne, 9, helped lay a brick path next to a garden of ornamental grasses and flowers with her fourth-grade class. She said that the bricks and plants would help stop soil erosion. If the erosion continued, she said, "when it rains the dirt flows down into the bay, then into the ocean. ... The animals in the ocean would die."

Although most of the gardening took place in one day, learning about plants and how they affect the environment made its way into every classroom.

In advance of planting trees on the edge of the athletic fields, fifth-grade classes worked on a booklet, "What Tree Is That?" The teacher-designed workbook describes how to classify a tree using features such as leaves and bark. It also gave children space for drawing and describing the trees they were planting.

"There was such buy-in on the part of the staff at our school," Monck said.

Before they got to work planting their trees, the fifth-graders had a short lesson with David Plummer of the Department of Natural Resources.

"What we do on this land affects the watershed," Plummer said. "If we plant these trees here, then the water has to go through a forest first."

He explained that the trees would help dilute pollutants that might travel into the bay.

Steve Parker of Howard County's Forest Conservancy District Board made sure the trees were being planted correctly.

"This is a great project here," he said. "You touch them at a young age like this, get their hands in the dirt, they get a respect for the trees."

Fifth-graders Dante Taylor, Elijah Robinson and Raymond Queen, all 10, worked together planting a sapling. They checked their booklet but were unable to identify the tree because it did not have leaves.

Elijah, who sometimes gardens with his grandfather, said he could imagine what the trees will look like in a few years. "It's going to be like a forest, real tall and big," he said.

The school has obtained a $500 grant for next year and plans to apply to the Chesapeake Bay Trust again. Pupils view the grounds improvements as an continuing project. Monck said they feel a sense of ownership in the plants, with some of the kids bringing parents to see the tree or bush they planted.

By watering and checking on the foliage, "They're continuing to talk about it and keep it alive," Monck said.

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