Outdoor Classroom Incorporates Milkweed
Production into Curriculum
BY JORGE BUENING, GENOA NFH
milkweed plants. Credit: USFWS
Over the past few years the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) has been establishing relationships with area schools. This was done with the objective of developing an environmental-based curriculum that can be incorporated into the already established educational plans that each grade level follows. Our focus is to teach about the purpose of the National Fish Hatchery system and provide a place that students can learn to interact with and experience the natural world around them. We also hope to facilitate the development of a bond with nature that will last for the rest of their lives.
Our Sense of Wonder Wetland provides the perfect place for just such activities to occur. This space offers students the chance to experience diverse ecological communities including: wetlands, prairies, and woods. In this area students find snakes, hear bird calls, chase mice, or indulge in many other activities that a simple nature walk can provide. Mixed into all this fun are hidden lessons that are forever sewn into their memory.
Due to the decline in monarch butterfly populations the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working toward increasing the acreage of established milkweed beds. Milkweed plants are the preferred food of monarch butterfly caterpillars and increasing the amount of suitable habitat for juvenile growth and development should increase adult populations.
Seizing on the available opportunity the Genoa NFH has decided to incorporate milkweed plantings and the lifecycle of monarch butterflies into the outdoor classroom curriculum. We have worked with students from Southern Bluffs Elementary School in doing fall plantings in the prairie area of our Sense of Wonder Wetland. These students will be back in to spring to see if there plants have emerged. The Summit Environmental School has also joined the fun, with them we are hoping to start some plants early in the school’s greenhouses and plant them in the spring during their hatchery visit.
The integration of these programs seems like a no-brainer. We are dealing with a real-world problem and the students are able to help us work toward making it better. Hopefully, they will see the results of their actions and grow-up remembering the impact that they can make and the importance of their decisions.