On Tuesday, October 5, 80 seventh graders at King Middle School in Portland worked with Maine Audubon and horticulture staff from the City of Portland to plant over 60 native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees along the Park Street entrance to the school.
This planting project was the culmination of a months-long “learning expedition” about Maine birds and their habitat needs, which began last school year. King students routinely use immersive units like this to apply multiple disciplines to better understand and design solutions for an authentic community need.
In this case, that need traces back to the steep decline in native plants in the area, and the subsequent negative effect on insects, and in turn on resident and migratory birds and other wildlife. As part of Maine Audubon’s “Bringing Nature Home” initiative, we partnered with Portland Parks and their horticulture staff to provide an opportunity for teachers and students to develop real solutions to this problem.
During last year’s phase of the project, each student was assigned a species of Maine bird to study. They learned about its life cycle, behavior, food, and reproduction. Maine Audubon educators worked with students in the classroom and led visits to quality local bird habitat, such as Gilsland Farm. With the goal of designing a new landscape plan built specifically for their bird species, the students measured plots, learned to use graphic design software, and researched food webs.
The resultant plans relied on native plants — the most important and threatened component of habitat in urban and suburban settings — but also included attributes such as rotting logs, bird feeders, and benches for people. Ten finalist plans were submitted to the City staff for review, selection…and, for the winner, installation.
“This project has been a great example of how Maine Audubon works to instill a sense of place and purpose for Maine youth,” said Eric Topper, Maine Audubon’s director of education. “We share King Middle School’s emphasis on students taking responsibility for finding solutions, and we saw today that the next generation of land stewards and conservationists has already been quite busy and productive.”
“This is a great example of the sorts of partnerships and projects these kids can and should be participating in all over the city,” said Jeff Tarling, Portland’s arborist and horticulture manager.
Maine Audubon will continue to work with teachers and students at King to add interpretive signage, maintain and renew the planting, and study the insects and birds they attract. This work has received generous funding support from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, the Dorr Foundation, and others.