TMS students are designing pollinator gardens

Largely unused courtyards at Talent Middle School are on their way to becoming pollinator gardens in a design and innovation program with students doing the research and creating the plans.

Learning about pollinators, then planning and executing the concept from beginning to end are the type of activities the program was designed to foster.

“This is a big project," says teacher Heather Armstrong. "They had never done a scaled drawing using a scaled ruler. They are actually doing architectural drawing.”

Students like the challenge.

“I really like doing things I’m slightly not ready for,” says Aiden Watson. “I want to see how things will work out.”

With 48 seventh- and eighth-grade students, the stand-alone School of Design and Innovation within the middle school uses a project-oriented approach to teach science, technology, engineering and math while covering all other education requirements. The program also emphasizes collaboration and teamwork.

The courtyards are on either side of the school’s media center, visible through windows. The smaller east courtyard, 36 by 40 feet, likely will be tackled first and largely devoted to gardens, says Armstrong. The larger courtyard, 36 by 60 feet, likely will end up with class accommodations as well as a garden.

Teachers of other classes have expressed a desire to do more learning in the courtyards. Another class already has removed plants and other items in preparation for the work.

Students have studied the life cycles of pollinators and habitats they need to survive, designed concepts for what the spaces will look like and learned about plantings that encourage bees, butterflies and others. Armstrong estimates students have spent at least one hour each day since the beginning of the school year on studies and brainstorming related to the project.

Knowing the town's passion for pollinators — Talent was the second in the country to become a Bee City USA — Armstrong approached the city’s Bee City committee about cooperating in the project.

Rianna Koppel, a committee member, secured a $499 grant from the SELCO Credit Union to help with the project. Dolly Warden, who led the effort that made Talent a Bee City, says the committee has met with the students and that more meetings will be held.

Students and advisers will put together costs for the project. Armstrong says she will be looking for grants and in-kind donations to help with tasks such as concrete removal, excavation and building of structures. Material will be needed for raised beds and benches as well as plants and soil.

Design of the gardens may have been the most challenging aspect, says Armstrong. A licensed landscape architect, Armstrong needed to break the process down into “bite-sized chunks” so that students could understand and then perform the designing.

“The most challenging was the scale drawing," student Lucero Anguiano says. "We had to do three different designs for each courtyard." Students and an outside team of advisers will evaluate the designs early next year before selecting one to implement.

Armstrong and fellow teacher Marcel d’-Haem have refined the program in its second year. Last year they had a new challenge each week. Feedback told them that schedule was too aggressive, so they have bigger projects this year such as the gardens.

Middle school gardens will be part of a pollinator pathway up Main Street including pollinator habitat at the roundabout, Front Street and at the elementary school. While the spaces are enclosed by the building on all four sides, pollinators have no trouble locating the plants, Armstrong says.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com. 

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