Learning Landscapes Collaborative brings native plants to elementary gardens

Dishman, Crockett, Wilson, Bowie, and Bonham Elementary are sporting new gardens on their campus grounds as part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Learning Landscapes Collaborative, a network of organizations working together to engage students of the Rio Grande Valley with nature.

“The goal is to connect students to nature,” Curriculum and Instruction Science Specialist Melanie Flores said. “The gardens provide habitats that serve as outdoor classrooms where students can feel the different leaves and soil and experience the life cycles of butterflies right before their eyes.”

HCISD signed a proclamation in 2017 committing to create certified wildlife habitats on the district’s elementary campuses.

“All plants that go in the garden are native to the Rio Grande Valley and attract native butterflies, hummingbirds, and wildlife,” Flores said. “Plants include yellow sephora, red salvia, wild olive, Turk’s cap, lantana, scorpion’s tail, milkweed, and fiddlewood to name a few. We have built partnerships with Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge and Heeps Nursery in Harlingen. They specialize in providing campuses with native plants.”

This collaborative project includes a curriculum for second and third grade teachers. Students will be interacting with the garden through many lessons that include topics on ecosystems, adaptations, life cycles, and water conservation.

Although students did not take part in the planting process this year due to COVID-19, outdoor learning spaces and learning opportunities are being developed for students to engage with nature.

“The HCISD grounds crew along with Harlingen South’s Learning Landscapes CTE class usually help prepare the garden space,” Flores said. “We usually have a planting day with students, but for this fall, due to COVID, we installed the gardens with our grounds crew only.”

There are a total of 10 Learning Landscape Gardens established in HCISD so far. Stuart Place, Jefferson, Zavala, Ben Milam, and Travis elementary have gardens that were installed prior to this year.

Later this school year, birdbaths will be installed to serve as a water source for the animals attracted to the gardens.

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