The unlikely combination of a generous grant from a local benefactor and the impact of a stubborn pandemic together have produced a silver lining outcome – the installation of a bird garden at Carrollton Elementary School with the help and expertise of Georgia Audubon and an ecological landscaping firm.
Ann Cox, a STEM teacher at Carrollton Elementary School, applied for and received a grant from the Alice Huffard Richards Fund through the Community Foundation of West Georgia to participate in next spring’s “Taking Wing” workshop sponsored by Georgia Audubon.
“We received the bird garden because (fellow teacher) Tracey Cleek and I used what we learned at our first Taking Wing workshop to start our bird club here at CES,” said Cox. “We have stayed in contact with Melanie Furr (of Georgia Audubon) throughout in hopes of being invited back to the next camp at Amicalola Falls to share our experiences.”
But that workshop was cancelled because of pandemic concerns. The situation, however, produced a creative opportunity to take the purpose of the course directly to the intended beneficiaries – CES students – with the installation of the bird garden.
Cox said she took the Taking Wing course because she had noticed a growing disconnect between the natural world and her students. “Children are spending less and less time outside,” she said. “ It is vital that we teach our children to not only appreciate nature but to establish a desire to protect our natural resources. The only way to do this is to get them outdoors as much as possible.”
Cox said CES focuses on doing this through experiential learning activities.
“We are blessed to have a beautiful campus that facilitates these opportunities,” she said. “Our students routinely explore Buffalo Creek, help with garden beds, and learn to observe nature like a scientist. The planting of the bird garden opens up tremendous opportunities to explore the interconnectedness of native species of plants and their role in providing food for birds.”
On Wednesday, Cox and a STEM class of CES students planted the bird garden featuring only plants that are indigeneous to Georgia to encourage native birds to flock to the area. Atlanta-based Convivial Landscapes also helped by providing native species for the students to plant, plus explanations on why the particular specimens were chosen.
Daniel Ballard, a landscape designer and founder of the firm, said landscaping for birds is part of an international green landscaping trend called ecological landscaping.
“Ecological landscaping is an environmental science-based method of working with landscapes that considers the ecological health of a site along with its aesthetic appeal,” he said. “As a result, ecological landscaping promotes responsible stewardship of landscapes, providing healthy ecosystems that benefit all. Convivial’s landscapes can serve as thriving habitats to all living things, including birds, pollinators, and rich life in the soil.”
Ballard, who said he “likes to get my hands dirty” just like the rest of the kids, showed the students grubs and other natural occurrences in the soil to get them excited about planting. The students were also told to “help the plants grow” by talking to them. Periodic chants and chimes of “grow plant grow” could be heard among the pods of students around the plants they had just installed.
Cox said she was thrilled by the outcome of the day and looks forward to Furr’s return this spring to host a workshop from the Taking Wing curriculum for teachers, filled with ideas on using birding to teach standards. Cox said Furr will also be bringing a class set of binoculars for student use.
“This is an incredible gift,” she said. “ I would encourage anyone who has binoculars lying around the house, not being used, to consider donating them to our STEM lab.”
CES Principal Kylie Carroll said the bird garden is a special addition to the school campus.
“We are so thrilled for the addition of the bird garden at CES,” she said. “It was magical to watch our students take part in preparing it, and we can’t wait to see their continued excitement as they learn more about birds and their natural environments.”
Cox said the extra effort CES teachers put forth to promote nature to their students is a gratifying outcome. “My hope is that we will ignite a love for nature and that this spills over into their homes and our community,” she said.