Building Habitat and Leadership

Alaska Garden Grant Winner

The Science Workshop that the Children’s Museum of Houston operating in Edison Middle School allowed  students who live in a low-income, semi-industrialized community to take pride in their ability to help birds and other creatures through the creation of a garden that is also helping them explore the many benefits of having peaceful places in their own neighborhood. The students learned to develop the overgrown areas on the school grounds to become a productive habitat for native fauna and flora. The BirdSleuth curriculum gave them tools to figure out a course of action and understand the importance of all the decisions they were making with regard to which areas they planted, the types of plants chosen for these areas, and the type of materials they used.

Students then removed invasives, assessed what was required to needed to create a great habitat for birds, and integrated the work with a project that featured learning about ecosystems. The Green Ambassadors from nearby Furr High School came to talk to the kids about how to make raised beds and discussed issues they should consider such as the placement of the beds and pathways. Once the design for the raised beds was completed, the kids set about laying string to gauge how much material would be needed, measuring and calculating how many cinder blocks would be required. They also replaced the grass/weeds with mulch and wood chips.

There were several community work days that brought together students, parents, teachers, high school and college volunteers, to complete this project. The Houston Parks and Recreation Departments’ Natural Resources Manager, viewed the garden and said that it could be considered an official NWF Wildlife Community Habitat. The bird garden project created leaders who are now awake and thinking about the environment and their ability to influence its well-being. While students from the 8th grade would not be able to enjoy the garden on a daily basis after their graduations, they understood that what they were doing was community service representing something that would last, especially for the birds. These graduates have vowed to come back as high school volunteers, sharing that they see themselves as members of a family who have been bonded by their hard work and accomplishments.

Student’s associated with PBS’s SciGirls project performed bird observations for CUBS (Celebrate Urban Birds) in the garden with the support of Cornell’s Viviana Ruiz Gutierrez, who participated via Zoom. Kids enrolled in the Science Workshop’s summer camp program have planted more native grasses and are taking care of the garden: weeding, watering, cleaning the bird bath, and refilling the feeders. More and more birds are using the space, with the kids beginning to notice and appreciate differences between similar species, and with recent visitors including a hawk who swung by to check out the increased activity.