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Bettendorf Middle School students get hands-on experience restoring a prairie. Photo courtesy of Erin Allen

Bettendorf Middle School students get hands-on experience restoring a prairie. Photo courtesy of Erin Allen.

Service and students connect for Iowa pollinators

Last summer, I met Erin Allen, a Bettendorf, Iowa, middle school science teacher.  Erin was working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Mississippi River Project Office as part of Iowa's S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) program, which places teachers in science, technology, engineering and math in jobs so that they can bring back real life experiences to their students. Through our discussions about projects she might do to introduce her seventh graders to real-world science, the idea of a prairie restoration bloomed. A former Bettendorf School Board Member owned some acreage that he was interested in using as an outdoor classroom for the students. The land was mostly brome grass with a few prairie remnants and was in need of restoration. Erin and I came up with the idea of having the students create a restoration plan for the site, which we divided into three sections so that classes could restore one section each year.

In early November, the students each selected and researched a species of plant and presented information as to why it might be good for the prairie. I discussed their choices with them, and taught them about prairie restoration, specifically for pollinators – the “why” as well as the “how.”  In the end we came up with a species list approved by everyone. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program purchased the seed, and in late November, I had the students prep the site and hand seed it. In May they came back to see what had germinated and did some invasive species removal.

The students encountered a range of new opportunities as they worked with the landowner to do a chemical burn on the site, raked the thatch off the site and then hand seeded it, and learned about invasive species. They also discovered that prairies are mostly developing roots during the first few years, so they will not see much above ground. Students also got a hands-on experience with invasive species management through a garlic mustard pull.

Their activities were captured on video below.

I will be working with Bettendorf Middle School seventh graders during the next few years doing the same process so students will get to see unrestored, first year, second year prairies as they develop. Successive classes will be able to observe differences in insects and wildlife in the different types of prairies.

Aleshia Kenney
Illinois/Iowa Ecological Services Field Office


Last updated: June 8, 2020