Monday, June 10, 2013

About the Environmental Education Program and Two Schoolyard Habitat Projects

The Isabella Conservation District Environmental Education Program is funded through a grant from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.  As part of an agreement with the State of Michigan, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe distributes 2% of its earnings from electronic gaming at its two casinos to local governments and schools.  To get any of this money, government agencies and schools have to submit a grant proposal that details what they propose to do, how it will benefit the local and tribal community, and includes a detailed budget for the project.  The Isabella Conservation District has been very fortunate to receive funding for a number of projects over the years - including monitoring the North Branch of the Chippewa River, abandoned well closure, household hazardous waste disposal, and tire disposal (coming soon).

My program has been funded since the Fall of 2009.  The Environmental Education Program has three main areas that we focus on.  The first and most important focus is on bringing environmental and conservation education programs into the classroom (and community).  This aspect has grown every year to the point where I am busy in schools almost every day of the school year.  During the 2012-12 School Year, I did approximately 250 programs for classrooms across Isabella County, plus a number of community programs.

The second main focus of our program is an Environmental Education Day for 3rd Grade Students from across the county.  This has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.  This year we had approximately 600 third grade students attend this event.  We invite a number of local, state, and federal organizations and government agencies to participate in this event.  Most of these individuals/organizations volunteer their time to support environmental education.  This year we had over 20 different stations/activities set up for the students.  As part of our grant we purchase backpacks, pencils, and rulers for all of the students that attend - it's great to go into a school the following year and see students using the backpacks (or passing them down to younger siblings).

The third and smallest area of focus for our program consists of schoolyard habitat improvement projects.  Things that we have done in this area include building nesting boxes for birds and planting gardens full of native plants (here and here).  We just completed the latest Native Pollinator Garden last week at Morey Public School Academy. 

Morey PSA Native Pollinator Garden Site - before

The bed of my pickup full of plants for the garden.
Students and parents prepping the garden for mulching and planting

I didn't take any pictures of the actual planting process.  I was too busy running around showing students how to plant, where to plant, and what to plant.  It definitely pays to have a plan.  The school invited the Morning Sun newspaper to come and take photos and write an article about the garden.

Morey PSA Native Pollinator Garden -after.  Believe it or not, but there are approximately 500 plants in that space.

Morey PSA Native Pollinator Garden -after.  You can see the pathways going through the garden.
Morey PSA Native Pollinator Garden -after.  When students return in the fall, many of these plants will be 3 to 5 feet tall.
After completing the garden at Morey PSA, I had one more schoolyard habitat project in the works for this school year.  This project was focused on improving the habitat for people.  I worked with the students at Winn Elementary to build Leopold benches to add to their schoolyard habitat.  This was the first time that I had ever built these benches (alone or with students).  I cut out the lumber for the benches and pre-drilled most of the holes at home before taking the materials to the school.  The students did get/have to drill some of the holes using a bit and brace and/or egg-beater style drills.  There were a few hiccups with the construction, but in the end the school ended up with six of these:

Two Leopold benches with a Pollinator Garden in the background.

A different view of the same two benches.

I used this plan as the basis for construction with some modifications.  I used 2 x 6s for all boards except the seat.

Construction is really easy.  With power tools, a competent adult should be able to build one of these in under an hour.

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