Sixth graders planting with Aurelia Nichols

In 2016, I was approached by Fremont Middle School personalized learning teacher Emily Loerakker, looking for a community project for her class. The timing was perfect, as Fremont had just been awarded the ComEd Green Region Grant, and we were forming plans on what was to come.

I made a list of possible projects for the class:

  • Design a pollinator garden
  • Design and build informational signs for wet prairie, rain garden and Community Garden
  • Create scavenger hunt for Community Garden visitors
  • Build a bug hotel
  • Install new native landscaping around our admin building
  • Create a website to share their experience

With a class of 3 teachers (one is a woodworker) and 90 students, they were willing to help with the whole list!

During the winter, the class learned about the role of native plants in our ecosystem–how vital they are for pollinators and wildlife, their role in Stormwater Management, and the plight of the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (RPBB), an endangered native bee whose habitat could be in their own backyards! Aurelia Fayette Nichols of Glenview has studied the RPBB at length and gave a presentation to the sixth graders. She emphasized the importance of three season food source in the form of native flowers, providing foraging options from spring for the emerging queens (think spring ephemerals like Virginia bluebells) through fall with the flowering asters. Also, she shared their need for shrub hedges for mating and bare ground for nesting. She introduced them to Buzz Pollination, an ability bumblebees have that honeybees do not. Honeybees may have been the news story for a decade, but the future is protecting our native bee species who provide billions of dollars of food production for us for free.

The next step in the process after learning the science was integrating writing skills into the learning process, under the tutelage of teacher Elizabeth Russell. The students were asked to take what they learned and write a summary that could be used as an informational sign to share with Fremont visitors why our native reconstruction was important.

The class was divided into multiple groups of 4-8 students, with each group tasked with an assignment: to brainstorm, plan, sketch and present their proposed project plan to me. The group worked on one of the following: sign design, scavenger hunts, bug hotels, pollinator garden, and web design.

In February of 2019, I had the honor of hearing the presentations and giving feedback to the students. They were professional, creative, and excited as they showed their designs via powerpoint or with handmade illustrations. They included advantages, disadvantage and considerations for each design, as well as material costs, and cited their sources. Job well done, kids!

Personalized learning teacher Donald Doll took the students through the valuable process of wood construction, a skill that has been dropped from most public school systems. Together, they built 3 sturdy, attractive wooden signs that they installed on Fremont Township’s property. From drill to post-hole digging and leveling, the kids helped with all.

Early May 2018, the students made two visits to the township. During the first visit, the students split into three groups: one group worked on installing signs, another did Community Garden work, and a third group planted 500 plugs (plants in 3″ pots or smaller) around the admin building. They worked under the guidance of two master gardeners and Aurelia Nichols. The plants chosen for the landscape design are species that provide food sources for pollinators and are attractive and relatively well-behaved.

During the second visit, one group of students spread leaf mulch around their earlier plantings. The second group dug holes and planted 30 shrubs, many chosen for their bird and people friendly qualities. Varieties include: hazelnuts, chokeberries, prairie willow, elderberries, currants, shrubby st johns wort, and prairie roses. A third group collected nesting materials for our bug hotel–bark, hollow phragmites stems for mason bees, pines, hollow branches, and pine needles to created shelter for beneficial insects.

The following fall, the next sixth grade class visited the garden for a work session. They collected seeds from the flowers and grasses planted the previous spring and planted garlic for the following year.

I told the classes to be on the lookout for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee and send me pictures-hoping the comeback of the RPBB is another success story!

Written by Fremontgarden

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