Using her school lessons on plants as a gardening guide, Rachel Epstein, 7, spread mulch around the front of William Halley Elementary School with fellow Brownie Emma Henderson. In the process, they each earned a gardening patch.
"At school, we've been growing flowers," Rachel said. "It was an Earth Day project."
Incorporating school curriculum with gardening on the school grounds was part of the effort behind a backyard habitat that's been started at William Halley with a $500 grant from Wal-Mart.
Sandy Moses, a third-grade teacher at Halley, is going to connect her students’ butterfly lessons when they work on the garden, one section of which will be a butterfly garden.
"It's something that takes a while to evolve," Moses said. "It's in the very new stages. We want to get the kids involved."
The plan is to clear an area next to the building and divide it into six parts, each dedicated to a different grade-level curriculum. The first-graders are learning to grow seeds, while the second-graders will focus on insects and habitats. Third-graders are doing butterflies, and the fourth-graders are examining soil. Teachers and PTA members are hoping to have the garden certified as a backyard habitat. To do that, they have to incorporate all the requirements set by the National Wildlife Federation, which is headquartered in Reston.
"Our goal is to have it certified," Moses said. "One thing we have to work on is a water source."
THE $500 GRANT is just seed money for the project. The PTA hopes to pull in more money from various sources including grants and partnerships, said Berrie Brady, the PTA president.
"You can't fund everything," Brady said. "Grants and partnerships are the wave of the future."
An anonymous donor is supplying stepping stones to divide the garden into six parts, said Jill Howard, the incumbent PTA president that takes office in September 2004.
Paul Kopach, a parent who works at the Fairfax Wal-Mart, worked with Moses and Janice O'Lear Coffman, the PTA grants person, to apply for the grant.
Green Spring Gardens in the Fairfax County Park System incorporates its gardens with schools in the area and the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, according to park director Chris Strand. On a nice day, two or three busloads come through Green Spring, and Strand estimated nearly 6,000 students come there over a year. Schools that are doing their own garden, such as William Halley, can get advice from Green Spring Gardens.
"We always have a gardener on duty for answering questions," Strand said.
THE IDEA at Halley started out as a butterfly garden and evolved to include all the grades. A backyard habitat must include a water source, food and shelter.
The butterfly garden portion incorporates flowering plants with the right nectar to attract butterflies. The tiger swallowtail butterfly Virginia's state insect, likes Japanese honeysuckle, milkweed, lilac and ironweed, while the monarch butterfly likes butterfly bush, thistle and ironweed, according to University of Kentucky entomologist Stephanie Bailey. Bailey summed up the requirements for a butterfly garden in her paper "How To Make Butterfly Gardens."
"Groups of the same plants will be easier for butterflies to see than singly planted flowers," Bailey wrote.
Strand noted the benefits of studying butterflies in the spring.
"Butterflies are a great thing to do. You go through the whole life cycle," Strand said.
The time frame for Halley's garden has not been finalized yet. Organizers hope to have a good start by the end of this year and have it up and running for lessons next fall. Moses hopes to have lessons in the garden, using it like a laboratory.
"Anytime we have any hands-on learning experiences for the kids, that's the best way to learn," Moses said.
Emma Henderson is incorporating her Brownie project of mulching into her studies already.
"We have to write in our journal every Monday," she said. "I can put this in."