Elementary and middle school students at Bernice Curren School in Oxnard, California celebrated their second planting day this season in their new Schoolyard Habitat, an outdoor classroom converted from a grass lawn to drought tolerant native plant garden. The new outdoors space will not only save water, but will also provide habitat for native wildlife, including pollinators like the Monarch butterfly.
Erin, now 11 years old and in the fifth grade, was recruited by her teacher to help the younger kids dig, place young plants and add soil. She’s become an expert for the younger kids, and says that it’s all because of her first time listening to Schoolyard Habitat champion Michael Glenn who first visited her school three years before.
“Mr. Glenn came to our school to talk about native plants, and ever since then, I started growing my own,” the 11-year-old said as she wiped a bit of dirt off her hands. Glenn is the Connecting People with Nature Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura, and has worked with more than twenty schools across Ventura County and beyond to build Schoolyard Habitats. “I try to be a cheerleader for the program, but this habitat is truly for the kids and by the kids,” Glenn said.
Schoolyard Habitats are designed and planted by students themselves with help from biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teachers, parents and other volunteers. Here in Ventura County, the habitats range from small patches to larger landscapes, but no matter the size, they all serve an important role. By planting native plants, students are providing important nectar sources for a range of pollinators, from California fuchsia and toyon, which attract hummingbirds and songbirds, to ceanothus and Yerba Buena which support native bees. Plants like narrow-leaf milkweed, yarrow and coyote rush also support the Monarch butterfly, which has declined in recent years.
Students and teachers use these outdoor spaces to observe, draw, write, think and question, while at the same time supporting native wildlife, from the common Western fence lizard to hummingbirds and Monarch butterflies.
“This really is a great idea. I think all schools should do it,” said Debora Aguilar, parent and volunteer at Bernice Curren School. Aguilar volunteered to help the kids and teachers on their second planting day this year. “I’m learning things too. I didn’t know about milkweed and how it provides habitat for monarch butterflies.”
Elena Garcia is an Assistant Principal of Bernice Curren School and says that the school’s Schoolyard Habitat will be expanding later this year. A second grass lawn will be converted to a native garden and habitat this fall. “We’re a K-8 school with over 1,000 students, so we want to expand the native habitat so that we have space for the entire student body to get engage.”
For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Schoolyard Habitat program, visit http://www.fws.gov/ventura