Sheckler adds garden to teach students about nature, science
Kristine Kostura, Brad Evans and Dan Kotran, faculty members at Sheckler Elementary School, noticed an opportunity to bring a new hands-on learning experience to students while also getting them outside and enjoying nature.
This is how the school’s pollinator garden came into existence.
The three teachers share a passion for the environment, according to Kostura. They realized an underutilized courtyard on the property could be turned into a “living classroom” space.
“Children seem to spend less time outdoors, and this has led to a lack of appreciation and understanding of nature,” Kostura noted. “By developing these two areas, we hope to educate and show them that nature is a place to go and explore, watch and learn.”
To make this vision a reality, the team approached Superintendent of Schools Robert Spengler with a proposal. After receiving approval, they started working on the site.
“The courtyard needed a lot of cleaning up and creativity on how to utilize the space,” Kostura said.
Preparation included sod removal, soil tilling, mixing in compost and other soil additives, planting and hardscaping with mulch and stone. There are plans to have a wooden picket fence completed around the garden this spring.
The team reached out to local businesses for donations to help bring this project to life. According to Kostura, they received hundreds of donations of seeds and garden supplies from businesses like Home Depot, Lowes and Baker Creek Heirloom. According to Kostura, the project was also awarded a grant for $500.
To begin the process of getting the students involved, Kostura started a garden club last year with third-grade students. In the club, students learned how to start and maintain a garden, how to grow plants from seeds, weeding and composting and about pollinators and pests.
“Our efforts not only instill the love of nature and science into our students but help on a national scale promoting the importance of pollinators and conservation,” Kostura said.
To teach about how some bugs help gardens, Kostura hatched praying mantis eggs and the students were able to release them into the garden. Students were able to see and study the different lifestyles of a variety of insects from egg to adult. They even studied the growth of amphibians from tadpole to toad as well.
“It was a very successful program that led to other teachers getting their classes involved,” Kostura said.
Evans’ class found 15 monarch caterpillars on the milkweed in the garden. They took the caterpillars inside and raised them until they emerged as butterflies.
The class held a butterfly release and studied the migration pattern the insects would take on their way to Mexico.
Students also learned how to recycle and reuse garden materials into creative artwork such as wind chimes and bird feeders.
“Our team is constantly looking for ways to incorporate beneficial features to the gardens that will inspire lifelong learning in our students and help the environment,” Kostura mentioned.
The team of teachers dedicates their time and volunteers over the summer to maintain and grow the garden. The team came in multiple days each week over the hot summer to ensure the garden was watered and surviving. Rain barrels were donated to catch rain water to use as well.
“It is a large commitment, but it’s a labor of love, and the benefits outweigh the challenges,” Kostura said.
Kostura also noted Keli Tedesco, a parent of two Sheckler Elementary students, volunteered her time to help projects like this get accomplished around the school.
Kostura made sure to mention other volunteers assisted in getting the project off the ground. She extended her heartfelt thanks to all who dedicated their time and made donations.
“There were many individuals who helped make these projects possible,” she said. “It was a true team approach.”
Spengler extended his appreciation for the project.
“These resources provide not only a rich educational experience but also foster a true love of nature and conservation and help to develop the whole child, a mission central to the Catasauqua Area School District,” Spengler said.
“This project was important to show students how we can have a positive impact on our school, community and planet,” Kostura said. “With a little bit of extra hard work, wonderful and beautiful things come to fruition.”