Fifth-graders in Brambleton aren’t sugar-coating their impact on the environment.
“We’re kind of the reason a lot of animals lost their homes because we needed a school,” 9-year-old Ananya said.
“So it’s our job to make it right,” her friend Lailee chimed in.
As part of a lesson in their life science course, students at Madison’s Trust Elementary School are learning about how the construction of their brand new school negatively affected the habitat of the native animals in the area. But they’re also learning how to reverse some of the damage.
The students spent Thursday morning outdoors with Susanne Ortmann, Northern Virginia Programs Manager for the Audubon Naturalist Society. Ortmann, holding a grumpy-looking box turtle, broke some not-so-great news to the students: “The habitat for some of these animals—like the deer and the box turtle—has been disturbed.”
The students were shown a picture of their school property before and after construction began. Before the work started, the property was lined with dense forest. Now, it is home to a large, two-story building, an asphalt parking lot, a grass field and track.
But not all is lost, Ortmann assured the students.
She helped them come up with ways to restore some of the animals’ habitat, such as planting native grass and trees and setting out bird paths.
As part of the project, each student has been assigned an animal to research and depict in a work of art. Their works will be auctioned off at a fundraising event later in the year, with the money raised earmarked for the habitat restoration project. Fifth grade teacher Amanda Brown said the students can choose how they want to spend the money to help repair some of the natural habitat.
Student Faizan said that he expects that the noisy construction vehicles scared away a lot of the creatures, like deer, frogs, squirrels and birds. The 10-year-old suggested putting out bird feeders and bird baths, and maybe planting bushes, to draw some of the animals back. “If they have extra food and some protection, they’ll feel comfortable here again,” he said.
Ten-year-old Samnita had another thought. “A lot of the animals were probably smashed by big trucks,” she said. Her friend suggested holding a funeral for the deceased critters. “That’s a good idea,” Samnita added. “We need to show some respect.”
The students’ habitat restoration project aligns with the One to the World initiative, a division-wide push to connect classroom lessons to real-world problems. Brown was impressed with how her students showed empathy as part of their learning process.
“They’ve really taken ownership,” she said. “They realized that, yes, we are part of the problem, but we can also be a part of the solution.”