Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Penn State Extension, Partners: Collaborative School Planting Project Creates Lifelong Learners In Chester County

By Megan Hopkins-Doerr, Master Watershed Steward Coordinator Chester, Delaware Counties

For more than five years, Penn State Extension Master Watershed Steward Carol Armstrong has maintained an instream Mayfly Station that monitors conditions in Pickering Creek, which runs alongside the Montgomery School campus in West Pikeland Township [Chester County]. 

During this time, Carol “observed much tree loss along the stream edge, a low rate of native forbs and grasses, a high rate of noxious invasive species, and few bird species along this reach of the Creek.” 

She is also concerned about recently recorded high water temperatures, especially as it is a designated High Quality stream.

Because of Carol’s concerns and the unsustainability of the stream as trees continue to fall from both banks, she proposed enhancing the existing vegetated buffer by adding more native trees and shrubs for increased density and biodiversity. 

Riparian buffers, or the vegetated areas alongside waterways, naturally protect streams by shading and cooling them, slowing and infiltrating stormwater runoff before entering the waterway, removing pollutants, creating habitat, and preventing sediment erosion from streambanks. 

Fellow MWS Sarah Newman soon joined Carol in developing the project.

Middle school science teacher Jacob Kratz knew this was a wonderful real-world opportunity to incorporate botany, life science, environmental science, and service learning into his curriculum. 

In fact, one of Montgomery School’s missions is to apply as much of their teachings to real-world applications. 

Jacob mediated the discussion with the Montgomery School (K–8) administration, who were willing and generous partners, for an approved spring riparian buffer planting.

Other partners become involved in providing education or materials for the planting. Chester County Parks and Preservation and Green Valley Watershed Association added to Carol's and Sarah’s prior knowledge of riparian buffer installations and invasive plant control. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation Keystone Ten Million Trees Program donated the native trees, shrubs, and protective shelters. 

The Chester County Conservation District dropped off their Planting Trailer containing planting tools and equipment. 

The school provided coir mats for weed suppression and caging for shrubs.

Students learned about the coming trees and shrubs in the months prior to the planting and planned where each species would be planted. 

They removed multiflora rose and other invasive plants during March’s Innovation Week. 

With their math teacher, Charles Hambrick, they calculated the area to determine the density of the plantings. 

These topics were not taught as stand-alone lessons but as part of an integrated ecology cross-curricular approach that fostered the students’ understanding and appreciation of the upcoming planting, integrated ecology, and stream health.

Finally, planting day arrived on April 21, with middle school students, teachers, families, school administrators, and MWSs participating. 

Before planting began, everyone learned how trees, streams, wildlife, and health are connected through the forested stream ecology. 

Then the planting began with students, teachers, and MWSs planting 188 trees and shrubs alongside Pickering Creek.

The students loved the work of preparing the ground and then learning how to plant and protect the precious trees, and they seem to have gained a greater personal connection to their environment and understanding of woodland and stream ecology. 

Watching Mr. Kratz walk with his students through the planted area shows the success of the project based on their positive energy and questions. 

The students were happy to learn that they had contributed a better environment to future generations of students and wildlife.

(Reprinted from the recent Penn State Extension Watershed Winds newsletter.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy (bottom of page).)

More From Penn State Extension:

-- Master Watershed Steward Program Accepting Applications For 2024

-- Master Watershed Steward Information Sessions

-- Private Water Supply Education & Testing In 2023

-- Invasive New Zealand Mudsnails Found During Education Event In Erie

-- Pond & Lake Wildlife: Muskrats

Related Articles:

-- Tioga County Couple Honored By Susquehanna River Basin Commission For Unwavering Efforts To Restore Tioga River Watershed  [PaEN]

-- National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Awards $1.8 Million In Chesapeake WILD Grants To Restore Freshwater Mussels, Other PA Projects  [PaEN] 

[Posted: December 19, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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