Third-grader meets former First Lady Laura Bush after winning essay contest on conservation


Saban Ybanez, a third-grade student at Stuart Place Elementary, had the chance to meet former First Lady Laura Bush at an invitation-only luncheon hosted at Quinta Mazatlán World Birding Center on Nov. 8.

He was invited to attend the exclusive event after winning an essay contest held by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Learning Landscapes Collaborative (LRGV LL). As part of the competition, third-grade students were asked to write about the benefits and importance of having a learning landscape on campus grounds.

“I’m so happy to have won the essay contest and to have met former First Lady Laura Bush,” said Saban. “We need to protect our habitat here in the Valley by planting as many plants as we can so that animals like the monarch butterfly have enough food.”

The LRGV LL is a network of organizations working together to engage students, teachers and administrators throughout school districts of the Rio Grande Valley to incorporate native habitat gardens as outdoor classrooms. The group has partnered with Texan by Nature, an organization founded by Laura Bush to promote conservation of natural resources.

The event celebrated LRGV LL’s designation as the newest Texan by Nature “Conservation Wrangler” and recognized five school districts for having committed to creating native gardens on at least 50 percent of their school campuses. Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District was among the districts recognized.

“HCISD is partnering with Texan by Nature to create learning landscapes on our campuses. We are implementing a pilot for the native habitat initiative this spring at Stuart Place Elementary,” said Science Specialist Melonie Flores. “The primary target for this project is third-grade students in at least five school districts. Approximately 400 students will be participating in this project during the first school year and about 1,200 students during the second school year.”

Saban along with his classmates worked together before the Thanksgiving holiday to plant native species of trees, shrubs, and ground cover in their school’s butterfly garden.

“We planted the Milkweeds, and other classes planted different things,” said Saban. “Most of these plants attract butterflies, and some of them attract birds.”

The goal of the program is to infuse the community with a deep appreciation, respect, and cultural pride of the local ecosystems through experiential learning. Not only will the learning landscapes help educate students about the protecting the native habitat but, they will save water and be economically beneficial to the overall maintenance and appearance of HCISD schools.

“As part of our commitment to the project, HCISD’s goal is to have butterfly gardens in at least 50 percent of our schools within the next couple of years. This includes planting about 450 native species of trees, shrubs and ground cover. Furthermore, we are working to include more native species while developing future landscape projects in our district,” said Flores. “After developing the gardens in our school grounds, we intend to apply for several distinctions they include the Conservation Wrangler and Monarch Wrangler distinction from the Texan by Nature organization.”

The LRGV LL is providing third-grade teachers at Stuart Place lessons to be embedded into the science curriculum with a focus in the areas of ecosystems, adaptations, and life cycles.

The Texan By Nature organization spearheaded by former first lady Laura Bush is assisting with the funding to purchase the native plants. Funding has been allocated from the South Texas Refuge Complex to cover curriculum development, teacher training, and materials. There will be $500 mini-grants that campuses can apply for to purchase native plants for their schoolyard gardens.

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