This story was originally published in the summer 2014 edition of Virginia Parks & Recreation magazine.
What do you think about this group of people?
They compost every day. They recycle. They share food with a local shelter. They have a permeable paver patio with native plants. They garden on raised beds. They maintain bat, pollinator, decomposition and lifecycle gardens. They maintain an adopted trail. They remove invasive plants and replace them with natives. They’re starting a seedling nursery.
And they go to grade school.
These are the students of Belvedere Elementary School in Falls Church, Va. They’re in their fourth year of a partnership with the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) in which they’ve adopted Belvedere Park next to their school as an outdoor classroom, and the students work several times a year with the Park Authority’s Invasive Management Area program. The Park Authority, the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, and Hidden Oaks Nature Center are some of about two dozen local groups in partnership with the school in an initiative called Going Green. With support from her students, Belvedere Environmental Educator Stacey Evers writes greenBELVEDERE, a blog about their efforts.
“When we first adopted the park over three years ago, Park Manager Richard Maple spent time with me to help designate a trail from the school field into the heart of the open space,” Evers said. “School volunteers then built that trail, which is still used today.” Evers added that, prior to the adoption, the school didn’t take advantage of the nearby park, and many staffers didn’t realize there was FCPA property next door.
“Richard and I recently met to assess the park this spring,” said Evers. “Erin (Stockschlaeder) and Belvedere parent/IMA site leader Terri Lamb were also at that meeting. We are hoping to begin efforts in the next year to reforest it.”
Erin Stockschlaeder is the Invasive Management Area coordinator for the Park Authority, and she works closely with Evers and the students. “Every year students from Belvedere Elementary walk the short distance to Belvedere Park to remove invasive plants and plant native species,” she said. “Most recently I was there on Earth Day when several classes came out (despite the rain) and planted native trees, grasses and flowers. The kids were so small, and so curious! One little girl had to run to catch up to her class that was heading back into the school because she wanted me to tell her the name of all of the plants that her classmates had just planted. She would repeat the name several times and promise to come back to check on them.”
The partnership helps the students learn about nature and the responsibilities of stewardship while the park sees improvements that will still be benefitting the land and county residents when these youngsters are adults.
“Last year students from Belvedere Elementary also collected acorns from the park which they will grow in a protected location on school property. Once the oaks grow large enough they will be returned to the park,” said Stockschlaeder. “Without the partnership with Belvedere Elementary, Belvedere Park would not be on its way to restoration like it is today! In fact, the original Invasive Management Area (IMA) site is now pretty much free of invasive plants, and many of the species planted by the students are flourishing.”
Evers said that earlier this spring the Belvedere students planted a dozen new native trees on their school grounds. “UFMD (the Urban Forest Management Division of the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services) donated the trees and provided scheduling, support and supervision on planting day. They also worked closely with me and Dale Taylor, director of FCPS grounds, to ensure that the trees were placed where they wouldn’t interfere with school use.”
Belvedere was the first school to join in such a partnership with UFMD. Evers says UFMD wants to work with schools in order to help the county achieve its 30-year tree canopy goal. It’s all part of a park partnership and a school curriculum teaching kids to take care of the future.
Stacy Evers can be reached at 703-346-8530.
Author Dave Ochs is the manager of stewardship communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.