Butterfly garden at JR Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham - photo by Gaynor Bigelbach

Native or Invasive? Learning to Nurture Local Ecosystems

Year-long projects in two schools, J.R. Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham and Turkey Hill Middle School in Lunenburg, led students to explore the value of local ecosystems. Both projects, funded by Massachusetts Cultural Council STARS Residencies grants, provided for multiple classroom visits and outdoor lessons with NRWA educators in partnership with classroom teachers.

In Ashburnham, third and fifth grade students used the school's butterfly garden as an outdoor classroom where they studied bird identification; bird adaptations, such as the way a bird's beak is shaped perfectly for its diet; and the engineering concepts displayed in animal-designed structures, like bird nests, spider webs, and climbing plants. As part of this project, the students designed and built natural structures for the garden, including toad houses, bird feeders, butterfly "puddle" troughs (where butterflies can extract minerals from the soil), natural fencing, and stone markers for the pathways. At the end of the year, the students' design & field study drawings were on display for the public, along with their enhancements to the garden, all of which were meant to encourage native species to flourish.

In Lunenburg, fifth grade students studied invasive Asian Bittersweet, Multiflora Rose, and Japanese Knotweed in their schoolyard. Their project involved learning to identify these invasives and studying their impact on native ecosystems. The students were given a broad spectrum of art forms to express to their community the need to address the issue of invasive plant damage - song, play, poster, comic strip, or poetry—with a display at the Lunenburg Town Hall.

Thank you to the Massachusetts Cultural Council for making these projects made possible through their STARS Residencies grants.

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Turkey Hill Middle School posters:

Free the ForestHealthy Tree posterSave the Trees poster