Victoria schoolkids getting their hands dirty

Garry oak meadow project teaches children stewardship

Habitat Acquisition Trust land care co-ordinator Todd Carnahan directs Quadra elementary students

Students in Winona Waldron’s Grade 1-2 class, all clad in rubber boots, troop single file across a blocked-off portion of Fifth Street behind Quadra elementary.

They gather in a semicircle underneath a nearby grove of Garry oak trees and listen intently to Todd Carnahan describe how the camas bulbs he told them about in class should be planted, then covered up with mulch.

Carnahan, the land care co-ordinator for the Habitat Acquisition Trust, oversees the six and seven year olds as they happily do their bit to restore this little corner of Garry oak meadow. A collection of native flowering shrubs is coming the next day to finish off the project.

“What’s the most important thing to remember not to do with these bulbs?” he asks them before they head off. Step on them, someone offers up correctly.

“So, before you leave on spring vacation, come and look for the blooms coming up,” Carnahan adds, then proceeds to give the kids high fives.

Spearheaded by the parent advisory council, the school-wide project to plant 313 bulbs – one for each student at Quadra – along with shrubs is part of a project the Trust calls the Green Spots Program. It began last fall with students spreading mulch and cardboard down, in preparation for the planting.

The goal is to get children outside to learn about their environment, as well as take ownership in what they help create, Carnahan says.

“Nature deficit disorder is rampant these days,” he says, standing beside an oak he estimates at between 200 and 300 years old.

“If we lose kids after they’re seven or eight and don’t get them outside, they may not develop that spark of interest or a love for nature.”

Tracy Byrne, Quadra PAC president, grew up in Great Britain and remembers seeing green spaces she played in gradually disappear, replaced with developments.

She helped drive a decision by the PAC to not invest in plastic and metal play equipment, as many schools have done in recent years, but to put its money into natural spaces.

“Todd came on board and gave us some focus,” Byrne says. “For the kids, it was really important to (tell) them that they’re sacrificing a bit of a play space, but they’re also becoming stewards of that space.”

The Garry oak meadow restoration project was helped along with donations of cash for the bulbs from the Gudgeon family and shrubs from Habitat Acquisition Trust.

Quadra principal Marilyn Campbell says projects such as this are important because they give the students a stronger connection to the greater community.

She’s also a big fan of getting the kids outside.

“The classroom does not stop at the four walls,” she says. “In a community where they don’t get out as much, everything we can do to encourage and enhance that is good.”

editor@vicnews.com

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