Celebrating Earth Day: It's Perfectly Natural at Westtown School

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Westtown Middle School students got an early start on Earth Day this past Monday, April 16. Students came to school prepared to dig in, getting down and dirty as they planted flowers, shrubs and trees across the school's 600-acre campus. As they learned gardening skills, they also learned about the importance of biodiversity for maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Middle School students plant saplings for Earth Day

As they dug and planted, students supported the biodiversity of plants, insects, birds and other wildlife – and by extension, themselves. It dawned on them how interrelated all these systems are, and how the health of one sustains the others.

It’s just natural for Westtown School to celebrate Earth Day. Westtown, a preK -12 college preparatory school in West Chester, PA, has a longstanding commitment to sustainability. Since its founding by Quakers in 1799, management of the school’s 600-acre campus and other institutional practices have consistently aligned with Friends testimony about stewardship of the earth.

But Westtown does more.

Not only does the school practice sustainability, it also teaches it. On Monday, April 16, a week in advance of Earth Day 2012, April 22, Westtown Middle School students and their teachers dug right in. They came to school to learn how to plant trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables – skills they will use for the rest of their lives.

Their goal: beautify the campus with new flowers and shrubs and ensure woodland health for the next century by planting new trees. The 6th, 7th and 8th graders, along with members of Westtown’s grounds crew, were assigned to teams in different locations around the school. They were ready to get down and dirty.

And then, according to Judy Asselin, Westtown’s Sustainability Coordinator, as the planting began, something more started to happen. Seeds of learning were also being sown. “As they dug and planted, students supported and enriched the biodiversity of plants, insects, birds and other wildlife in our region – and by extension, themselves. It began to dawn on them how interrelated all these systems are, and how the health of one sustains all the others.”

Some students planted herbs in the Middle School’s Shakespeare Garden, a living extension of their English curriculum. Others planted vegetables at Westtown’s instructional mini-farm, and still others carried out a landscape design of plantings at the entrance to the Middle School building. The largest team headed to the “North Woods,” a forested area of the campus, where they planted 100 hardwood saplings.

“The tree planting was especially important,” said Asselin, “because the deer herd on Westtown’s campus is browsing down all the existing hardwood saplings. So students also installed sapling protection for the new trees. We want the woods around our lake to still be wooded in 100 years. As the proverb goes, ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now.’”

These are exactly the kinds of lessons Westtown students learn by way of these hands-on experiences. Lara, a 7th grader, said, “I had a lot of fun Monday. At first I thought it was kind of stupid to plant more trees since there are already lots of trees in the woods. But I learned it would be good in case there was a disaster with one of the species that’s already there.”

It was hot outside and everyone was sweating from the exertion, but as they worked together toward a common goal, students also had fun. Happy Earth Day!

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Lynette Assarsson
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