Project Title: Healthy Habitats
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By: lking


   On October 14, 2011, a group of St. John’s eighth graders and three of their     teachers set out to reclaim a Blackland Prairie remnant at White Rock Lake from invasive species of Johnson Grass and Queen Anne’s Lace. The team of students and teachers received a Texas Healthy Habitats grant worth more than $8,000 from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Environmental Systems Research Institute, Service Learning Texas and Encana Oil and Gas  to protect, restore and maintain a Blackland Prairie remnant adjacent to the lake and across Buckner Boulevard from the school. Mrs. Herrin and fellow Middle School teachers Mrs. Liz Christensen and Mrs. LeAnne Wyatt worked with eighth graders to apply for the grant in September after hearing  about the opportunity from master naturalist Becky Rader and realized and right away how they could create a unique service-learning experience for our kids.

The Project

Throughout the spring of 2012, students researched plant biodiversity in the remnant tracts, used quadrant sampling to identify percentages of native and invasive exotic plant species, and use GIS technology to map their data. After establishing a baseline of ideal native plant diversity, they will began steps to eliminate the exotic, invasive species of Johnson Grass and Queen Anne’s Lace from the remnant. The project also included an education component during which students talked to members of the surrounding community about the importance of riparian zones, habitat connectivity, wildlife corridors and other sensitive habitats. The eighth graders are also did a nature photography exhibition for the Bath House Cultural Center art gallery.

The Blackland Prairie

Studies show that less than one percent of the original Blackland Prairie region remains in existence today. Farming, bison elimination and prairie fires reduced the original Texas ecosystem from pre-twentieth-century estimates of 12-million acres to fewer than 5,000 acres. With only remnant tracts remaining, the biodiversity of plant wildlife, and consequently of animal species, has been significantly reduced.

One of the best gifts we can give our students as they prepare to leave us for high school is an appreciation of the delicate balance that exists in nature. Through this project, students provided a tangible, positive impact on an area that many of them enjoy every day and   learned  first-hand what it means to be a steward and it was  exciting to give back to the lake habitat that gives us so many educational opportunities.

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