Creating a Sustainable Learning Oasis: Elementary Students Embrace the Sustainability Garden Project

In today’s world, fostering environmental consciousness and promoting sustainability have become essential goals within education. At Washington Episcopal School (WES), students are actively engaged in a remarkable project that combines art, science, and nature. The entire elementary school, from second to fifth grade, is excitedly preparing for the creation of a sustainability garden. (You won’t see a sustainability garden related to 4th grade here, but fear not, they did logo designs in Art for an inventions project in STEM earlier in the year.)

At WES, students have a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) special twice a week. They also have art twice a week. Lucky for the STEM teacher and me, these classes happen during the same block of time so combining classes is an option along with having classes that directly complement each other. Recognizing the immense potential for cross-curricular learning, the STEM teacher and I decided to harness the power of artistic expression to enhance the students’ understanding of sustainability.

As fifth-grade students delve into the world of native plants, they are preparing for the sustainability garden by meticulously creating thoughtful pencil studies of plant species commonly found in Maryland. By focusing on native plants, these young researchers are gaining a deeper appreciation for their local environment while honing their artistic skills.

Meanwhile, third-grade students are engrossed in studying pollinators and the vital role they play in ecosystems. To showcase their newfound knowledge, these budding artists are employing color theory principles to create complementary-colored collage backgrounds. On top of these vibrant backdrops, they are collaging observational drawings of pollinators, producing stunning works of art that celebrate the diversity and beauty of these essential creatures.

In the second grade, the focus is on birds and their habitats, adaptations, and the captivating field of ornithology. Inspired by the artist Paul Klee, students are learning to observe birds and capture their essence using simple shapes. Through their artwork, they not only develop an understanding of avian habitats but also cultivate an appreciation for the connection between art and nature.

The heart of this transformative project lies in the creation of a student-driven sustainability garden, perfectly aligned with the Exploration Playground. Thanks to a generous $10,000 grant from Volvo, earmarked for sustainability initiatives within the STEM program, WES is poised to establish a space that serves both the student community and the natural ecosystem.

The garden’s design centers around water retention, serving as a crucial measure to prevent stormwater runoff and protect the Potomac watershed. By incorporating native plants that support local birds and pollinators, the garden becomes an essential refuge for wildlife. It provides students with an opportunity to explore nature while fostering a sense of mindfulness and connection to the environment.

Each grade at WES is assigned a specific area or aspect of the garden that seamlessly aligns with their existing STEM curriculum. Through their dedicated efforts, students in each grade will develop ideas and designs for their allotted spaces. The school plans a soft launch in late spring, accompanied by webpages for each grade that showcase their respective garden plots. These web pages will not only provide information on the class topics and sustainability but also serve as educational resources that can be expanded and adapted in the future. Hopefully, the artwork made surrounding each topic will be featured on these web pages.

The success of the sustainability garden project at WES is the result of collaboration between students, teachers, community partners, and especially our amazing STEM teacher Katherine Owens. Speakers from various fields have shared their expertise, helping students shape their ideas and deepen their understanding of sustainability. With facilities and contractors eagerly awaiting the green light to break ground, the vision of a thriving and vibrant garden is on the horizon.

Here is the Garden so far:

Washington Episcopal School’s sustainability garden project exemplifies the power of interdisciplinary education and community. I am so lucky I got to be a part of it.

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