Our vision was to have senior students work with primary students in order to foster environmental literacy with a new generation of students. The senior students feel good about contributing to our school community and the primary students get excited when they see the big kids in the hall because they have fostered friendships. The younger students also become interested in what subjects they can learn about in high school. As such, we started a project called Plant Buddies in which the senior students met with grade 2/3 students every two weeks to teach them about ecology and horticulture, as well as climate change and sustainability. The program was modelled after reading buddies, but instead of reading strategies we are focused on plant literacy. We are an Eco-designated school, so learning about climate change and sustainability is important to us.
Students have met several times throughout the year to work on a variety of projects. First, the Green Industries class learned about soils and photosynthesis. They learned about local pollinator species too. The business class helped order some seeds from a distributor and then everyone spent a few days planting the seeds, and then a few weeks documenting the watering process. We planted yarrow, be-balm, coneflowers, stone crop and Shasta daisies.
We then sourced some plant-based paint from a company in Winnipeg. When the paint arrived, we used it to paint blocks of scrap wood with the grade 2/3’s who had been learning about patterns. We attached the blocks to a wishing well we bought and put it in one of our atriums. We are planning to plant some of the flowers we are growing in June, once they are ready.
The next time we met, we used recycled pop bottles we had collected to make pop bottle planters. The senior students helped the grade 2/3’s cut, glue and paint their pop bottles. They also taught the class about using rocks for drainage in the bottom of the planters and about which plants were sun vs shade plants.
Currently, the senior students are working on creating tire gardens out of recycled tires. In total, we are keeping 55 tires out of the landfill. Students created scale drawings of their designs and are now painting them using the eco-friendly paints. Through this process, students learned about safety procedures, as well as aspects of business plans – they had to create a site plan to submit to out head custodian and justify why each location would be sustainable and economical. In June, we will be actually building the garden structures around the school yard and getting the grade 2/3’s to help us plant some of the plants we have been growing. Finally, we bought a rain barrel with some of the funding from LSF and students attached it to one of our fence lines. We are using other funding to help create job opportunities for a few of our students who will drop by the school once a week over the summer months and check on the gardens. If they need water, they can use water from the rain barrel to water the plants. This will help keep them viable over the summer months. We are also planning a joint field trip to our local nursery to learn more about horticulture.
Reflection & Celebration
To date, the grade 2/3’s have really enjoyed their time with us. Several students have commented that the plants in their recycled pop bottle planters “are growing!” – and they have been exceptionally enthusiastic upon reporting this. The well has been placed in the school atrium and now everyone can see it as they walk by. The rain barrel is out in the yard collecting rain, and the tire gardens are half painted and on track to be placed out in the yard and planted in June. We have had a lot of fun doing this project. Finally, three of the senior students have committed to checking on the gardens over the summer and will get paid an honorarium for their time. In this way, we are showing students that being climate aware can also be economically beneficial.