Planting seeds: Sacred Heart School awarded gardening grant

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By Derek Carson

dcarson@benningtonbanner.com

BENNINGTON - The Sacred Heart School community is engaged in a project to beautify its schoolyard and create a habitat for pollinators.

The project was made possible in part thanks to a schoolyard habitat mini-grant from the Four Winds Nature Institute. Sacred Heart has been participating in the Four Winds Nature Program, and its predecessor, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science's Environmental Learning for the Future program, for 13 years.

According to Kathy Murphy, who teaches technology at the school and has coordinated the Four Winds program for those 13 years, the school added a garden club to its after-school program last year, which helped prepare and plant the gardens, which include sunflowers, milkweed, and nectar producing flowers, such as flax and cornflowers. They also installed "bug boxes" and will put out birdhouses later in the year.

"I always come to the after-school program," said Riley Thurber, a fifth grader at Sacred Heart, on why he joined the gardening club, "[Murphy] started the gardening program, and it seemed like it would be a lot of fun." The club's membership was fluid, but generally about 15 students participated every day.

On Wednesday, Thurber's class was utilizing the outdoor learning space, searching the garden for seeds. Teacher Jenn Moore and volunteers Coleen Zimpfer and Christine Morrissey helped the students to identify and categorize the seeds.

About six times a year, Four Winds educator Michael Clough runs a training session for staff and volunteers from Sacred Heart, Pownal Elementary School, and the Village School of North Bennington, which all participate in the program. After, armed with new teaching tools and activities, teachers and volunteers take what they learned into their classrooms and after-school programs.

"The Nature Program offers monthly two-hour natural science workshops in your community for adults interested in sharing their love of nature with school children," according to the Four Winds website, fwni.org, "Each training session includes informational presentations and indoor and outdoor activities. With over 40 lessons, we divide our program into five year-long courses of study, each focusing on a different key science standard."

The schoolyard habitat mini-grants, which can be worth as much as $500, are given to a small number of schools each year, "to help schools enrolled in our program improve their school grounds or surrounding areas for outdoor science and environmental education," according to the website. "The primary goals of the grants program are to make schools better places to study nature year-around, and to promote school-community interaction. Any project that supports these goals will be considered. Projects may involve improvements to the school grounds, but other outdoor community spaces (parks, woods, streams, ponds, etc.) are also eligible. Projects that support a number of grade levels are preferred over those that help a single grade. Student and community involvement in the planning and execution of projects will strengthen the proposal."

This is the first time since the program's inception that Sacred Heart has been the recipient of the mini-grant. The Village School has been awarded the grant twice, first in 2007, "to build a composting center and butterfly garden on a plot of land next to the school. With the help of the school board, area businesses, and a group of volunteers, the community will install compost bins for school lunch scraps, and will landscape the plot with nectar and food plants intended to provide food and habitat for butterflies and caterpillars." They also received the grant in 2014, " to plant a butterfly garden at nearby Hiland Hall Garden, a public space the school has been using for outdoor study."

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB


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