SHERP - Page 21

Native Tree, Shrub, & Herbaceous Species

Why native Plants?

At Falk, the natural environment and its history have led up to the existence of SHERP, the place-based learning which engages our students today. In 2006, our school community learned it would lose its green spaces due to construction of the new wing. The need for a new green space meant taking a closer look at the unused hillside behind the school. In collaboration with the Audubon Society of Western PA, it was determined that an ecological restoration was needed, as the site was invaded with non-native vines, shrubs and herbaceous plants, which greatly impacts local wildlife. With the greening of Falk’s built environment, it was decided that all landscaped spaces would be planted with native species. White Oaks are out in front of the building. Red Maples and Sassafras trees shade the playground. While native shrubs like Viburnums, Low Bush Blueberries, Fragrant Sumac, Inkberry, and more keep pollinators busy and birds bellies full.

With native plants already in place and easy to access in all seasons, it was a natural progression to have K-2 students adopt a native tree from the landscaped/playground spaces. So our youngest students visit, observe, & care for a tree throughout the seasons of their primary school years. Revisiting the same tree means the children see firsthand the personal story of a tree’s growth, seasonal cycle, adaptations, and ecological relationships. Primary students regularly ask to visit their tree. They greet it with hugs, look it over carefully, and naturally begin to discuss what is new or different. When a broken twig is found on a branch, or it is noticed that a single branch has grown quite long—students ask questions and brainstorm possibilities. This is deeper seeing and thinking

about the natural world. In winter, you can recognize these adopted trees because they are wrapped in scarves. This year as part of a new community journaling initiative, 5th grade students visited these same trees to gather observations and write poems that were then shared with the younger children. All members of the Falk community are invited to contribute to each tree’s collective journal with your photos, drawings, observations, nature sightings, writings, research, and more.

Increasing the local biodiversity in non-lanscaped spaces is one of the main goals of SHERP. K-8 students take action by raising native plants from seed and transplanting each one to the proper habitat every year. Older grades 3-8 absorb themselves with readings, discussions, and videos about native, non-native, and invasive plants to understand what naturalists and other researchers have discovered about the importance of native plants to the health of local wildlife and food webs.

To help you get a better understanding too, you are invited to read the article, “Why Birds Need Native Trees".

While we can never truly recreate or replace the sense of place provided by our trees of past, we’re happy to report that our new landscaped plants, especially the trees, are equally treasured by Falk students every day.