Helping restore the prairie ecosystem was a growing concern for Outdoor School students during the past school year.
Students grew native prairie plants in their classroom at Walter Murray Collegiate last spring and then planted them at the Restoring 71 project site east of Saskatoon in June.
The project originated during a visit to the Brightwater Science, Environmental and Indigenous Learning Centre. Students were asked to sort prairie seeds that were being donated to Restoring 71, a project that aims to restore crop and hay land to naturally occurring habitat supportive of native plant and wildlife species.
"The goal of the project is to get students involved in active prairie restoration and connected to a local farm. The project connects with our curriculums and works well as we are predominantly learning outside on the land," said Outdoor School co-teacher Rienna Rueve.
"We were connected with the landowners (Aaron and Katie Suek) through contacts at Brightwater and have connected with Katie from Restoring 71 through email and phone conversations. She also gave a Zoom presentation about the project and importance of restoring natural prairie habitat."
Beginning in March, seeds were planted and nurtured by students under grow lights purchased for the classroom. Students were involved in all aspects of the process: sorting seeds, conducting research, mixing the different soils, seeding and watering, and, finally, transplanting the seedlings at the site. Students grew 10-12 different plant species in the classroom with blazing star, anemone, blue gramma grass, and goldenrod among the most successful.
Students gave Rueve and Outdoor School teaching partner Mitch Lowe a positive response to the learning and hands-on aspects of the project.
"This experience is valuable because students are involved in hands-on learning and get to contribute to a project that they can come back to and visit in the future," said Lowe. "It directly connects to the material we are learning about and gives them a taste of making a difference. They get to learn about initiatives already in place which hope to help restore natural prairie habitat. They can take what they learn and apply it later in life as well."
This unique learning experience connected to curricular outcomes for Environmental Science 20 and Physical Education 20 courses, which are part of the integrated approach to learning in the Grade 11 Outdoor School program.
"There are a couple outcomes in the Environmental Science curriculum dealing with terrestrial systems and we looked at what natural prairie is left, why soil health is important, and the protection and restoration of intact habitat to support animal populations and biodiversity," Rueve said. "There is also a physical education outcome relating to activity-based service learning and that is where doing the sorting, caring, and planting came in. As a program, we are always looking for opportunities to give back and help where we can."
The Restoring 71 Natural Area, located 10 kilometres east of Saskatoon near Grandora, has more than four kilometres of trails providing access to several habitat features as well as an outdoor classroom space. The trails are suitable for children and include rest stations and interpretive signage/activities. It is generally open to the public, by appointment, 7 days a week during daylight hours.
For more information and to book a private or semi-private nature wander or classroom visit them at facebook.com/Restoring71/.