Students and teachers at St. Mary Parish School take an active role in learning about and caring for their natural world. The mission of the school places an emphasis on service learning and outreach.
Currently, the 5th grade students are beginning a Lenten religion project aimed at providing a nutritious "starter vegetable/herb garden" for every school family. Students washed over a thousand milk cartons which they used as their starter containers. The classes researched and created their own potting soil, as well. Students planted lettuce, tomatoes, basil and onions. Their teachers constructed banks of grow lights which fill the greenhouse and classroom. Over 1000 plants are watered on a daily basis.
Students extended the project even further and are now potting marigolds for all the senior citizens who are served the monthly luncheons at school. Their hope is to have enough to give a 4-pack of fully grown plants to all of those in attendance in April or May. This represents well over 400 marigold plants.
Garden Club participants spent more than 50 volunteer hours, removing overgrown vegetation, roots and rocks, cement and asphalt, and planting bulbs to rehab the area where the butterfly garden of native plants will be developed. With the guidance of the Waukesha County Conservation Specialist, Jayne Jenks, students have started planning what plants they will introduce this spring. The Waukesha Parks Commission will be providing a rain barrel and some native plants to jump start our efforts. We are hoping with the additional support of the Laudato Si Project, we will be able to obtain soil, mulch, and additional plants.In the mean time, kindergarten and first grade classes will be studying the life cycle of insects and watching the transformation of caterpillars to butterflies, in eager anticipation of their release in May.
Within the science curriculum, students have hands-on learning experiences at Riveredge Nature Center, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center and Retzer Nature Center. These opportunities reinforce not only understanding the environment but recognition of the critical, responsible role we are called to as respectful, informed consumers and protectors of our world. Parents are willing to support these efforts as mentors to small groups of 4 students. Research (Chawla, 2006) has shown that when adults mentor children from early ages, that there is significant gain in their appreciation and concern for the environment. Typically, our students have 10-12 active role models on each nature experience. Some years, we have been fortunate to have adults willing to help us observe local micro-environments in the community park, during monthly phenology studies.
Elementary students learn to appreciate the importance of the small critters, insects and other invertebrates, who help maintain healthy local ecosystem balance. Their understanding has been enriched through the presentations by Mr. Finley, the Education Director at Schlitz Audubon. He has been a frequent guest speaker at Earth Day events. These events include middle school workshops during which 6th, 7th and 8th grade students teach good stewardship practices to elementary and intermediate students, through interactive games.
Fifth grade students took part in piloting the River Reflections and sixth graders piloted the Protecting Wisconsin Ecosystems Programs at Riveredge. Currently, sixth graders and the middle school science teacher, Dr. Ferderbar, are working with the Riveredge Educator and Land Steward, Phyllis McKenzie, to expand the Protecting Wisconsin Ecosystems Program, through a grant. Study includes recognition and removal of invasive species and nurturing native species.
Students in sixth grade study water quality and advance efforts at home and school to conserve water and protect our streams from contaminants. Some students have cleaned out storm sewers and often encourage parents to keep fertilizers and soaps from washing cars off of driveways.
Seventh grade students study soil and soil nutrition. By analyzing the soil in the least productive parts of their own yards, students were able to pinpoint nutritional problems, to help home gardens and lawns be more productive with less use of artificial fertilizer.They are also analyzing the soil in the school yard, as part of a school wide initiative, spearheaded by the Garden Club, to create a school butterfly garden.
Seventh graders led a school community effort to educate students and parents about ways to keep e-waste, florescent bulbs, medicines and other hazardous waste out of the landfills. Their research, posters and advertisements regarding hazardous waste collection dates and medicine collection dates at the hospital and police station, will have a lasting impact.