By Kristin Boza
Sutherland Elementary School, 10015 S. Leavitt St., is encouraging students to get dirty in an effort to better understand the environment. As part of a couple of grants earned by parents, staff, and Principal Meg Burns, Sutherland students will start the school year with a brand–new outdoor mural and outdoor educational space to enhance their life sciences education.
During the tail end of the 2018-2019 school year, the school’s Green Team, led by parent Becca Blue and parent/Sutherland employee Kristin Loverde, applied for and won a $10,000 grant to create an outdoor learning space and pollinator garden. Students will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning in the space, while planting pollinator-attracting plants and then studying them as they learn about the lifecycle of a plant.
“This is part of our initiative to create more outdoor spaces and hands-on learning activities for our children. We recognize that not everything happens at a desk! We’re committed to making sure that our children get out of the classroom and into the world,” Burns said. “It makes sense that if you are studying pollination or how plants grow that you can get outside and participate in that process.”
The outdoor space has a sitting area and a variety of workstations. “Every child is going to have the dirt on their hands of this garden to make our pollinator garden grow,” Burns said. “Our goal is to create a safe habitat for pollinators, like bees and butterflies.”
The pollinator garden is in addition to the school’s established learning garden, where vegetables and herbs are harvested and donated to the St. Sabina Food Pantry. Chickens may be added in the future to further develop the life sciences curriculum.
Last year, students in 5th through 8th grades worked with Chicago-based artist Damon Reed on designing a mosaic mural that highlights the outdoor pollinator space. Through a partnership with the BAC, Reed worked with the students after school to create the mosaic.
“The mural is just spectacular; we also consider this our gift to our neighbors — we wanted to give them a beautiful piece of art and a garden to appreciate,” Burns said.
A ribbon cutting ceremony is planned for Sat., Oct. 5. The students will work throughout September to plant the garden, and then will show it off to the community during a pollinator festival and family-friendly gathering.
Sutherland is also working with Seven Generations Ahead, an Oak Park-based group dedicated to building ecologically stable and healthy communities, to promote a zero-waste initiative.
“We are becoming more mindful of the materials that we purchase to try to reduce our waste and, ultimately, our carbon footprint,” Burns said. The school also partners with Openlands, a nature conservancy organization, to explore wildlife in Beverly/Morgan Park. Both partnerships, along with the outdoor classroom, support Sutherland’s environmental curriculum.