AES goes green

Published 1:46 am Saturday, September 27, 2008

Nesting birds, butterflies and lush vegetation are usually found in parks, but a group of Andalusia Elementary School fifth graders is bringing nature to their school as well.

The 12 fifth graders make up the “Green Team,” a group of students who give their time and energy after school to help improve the grounds behind AES. This week, the students were working in their garden, planting cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables.

“This is really a service project for these kids to do something nice for the grades still to come,” AES fifth grade teacher Deb Hughes said. “They’re all great students who have shown a lot of interest in doing something for others.”

The Green Team had a hand in nearly every aspect of the “natural habitat area,” as Hughes called it. In the earliest stages, the students used computer research and conversations with local experts to develop work plans for every stage of the improvement project. They also built most of the construction projects themselves, under the guidance of a Weyerhauser volunteer.

Already, the students have built three 4-by-16 foot bed gardens, a compost area, three benches and a bat house. They also have installed 11 birdhouses and put up six educational signs on a nature trail.

“These kids are all volunteers and they had to write an essay to join the Green Team,” Hughes said. “In their essays, they each had to give something they wanted to help with — some said they wanted to build a butterfly habitat, some wanted to plant a garden.

“But they’ve each had ideas to help make this project grow.”

Clay Stephens, a member of the Green Team, said he enjoyed getting a chance to spend time outdoors working with his friends.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m a big outdoor person and I like to get dirty, so it’s been great.

“Putting up the birdhouses was probably the best part so far.”

Members of Boy Scout Troop 46 helped build an eight-foot wide bridge that spans a small gully in the area behind the school. The hope is that the bridge will serve as a vantage point for students to observe butterfly lifecycles. The Green Team will monitor the vegetation in the coming months to ensure there is the proper plant life to attract butterflies to the gully.

“One of our grades has metamorphosis lessons in their science for that year,” Hughes said. “We’re hoping this gully will help attract butterflies so the students can do some observations of the butterfly’s life stages.”

The project was financed by a $2,400 grant from the Wiregrass Resource, Conservation and Development Council. The school’s PTO matched the grant with another $2,400 and Weyerhauser also offered $1,000 in assistance. Hughes said the school is applying for a grant to build a pavilion area as well.

“This is an area that’s going to be here for years to come and hopefully the other grades will be able to take advantage of it,” Hughes said. “I hope that my students have had fun and have learned something about habitat awareness.”

Those who provided financial and other means of support to the project include: the Wiregrass Resource, Conservation and Development Council; Jimmy and Sierra Stiles, field biologists/educators with PowerSouth; Eagle Scout TuShun Culp; the Andalusia City Schools maintenance department; Andalusia Elementary School PTO; Weyerhauser Corporation; Boy Scout 46; Power South; Covington County Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES); and Sun Tractor.