What are Natives for Neighbors?
by Mary Benton and Monica Gross
Bound by Beauty (BbB), in collaboration with middle and high school teachers Monica Gross and Frank Mataska and their students at Doctors Charter School (DCS), BbB’s Network of Neighborhood Nurturies, TreeHuggers LLC, as well as other members of the community, launched Natives for Neighbors as a pilot program in the 2019/2020 school year. This program is designed to teach students about the role and importance of plant and animal species that are native to South Florida ecosystems, and to help them gain an understanding of both the negative and positive impacts humans can have on these communities. In studying the problems humans cause such as habitat destruction and pesticide use, students identify concrete actions to help solve them.
Thanks to Natives for Neighbors, 7th grade DCS students planted over 60 native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, including 10 donated to the school by Fairchild’s Connect to Protect Network, providing habitat for butterflies, bees, and other insects that are essential for the survival of the natural world, including our own survival as humans. By increasing the number of locally-grown trees and shrubs that sequester carbon, cool our community, filter our groundwater, and protect our food supply by providing habitat for pollinators, students play a direct role in making our community more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable.
How does the program work?
Native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers are either donated by members of BbB’s nurturies, or purchased from area nurseries. Students identify a location in their yards or communities, and choose a plant that will thrive in those conditions. Students learn practical skills such as how to plant and nurture native plants at school, and take those lessons home with them, along with their new plants. After transplanting the plants in their own gardens, students continue to nurture and observe them, while studying the relationships that these plants have with their living and nonliving environment, and how they form viable solutions to human-caused environmental problems. According to a follow-up survey nearly half of the students reported seeing an increase in the amount of wildlife such as birds, butterflies, and other insects in their gardens from one plant alone!
Students will learn how to identify, harvest, and nurture seeds and seedlings from their own plants, sharing those seeds with members of the community, Brockway Library’s seed collection, and the seedlings and their planting and nurturing skills with friends and neighbors. This project will grow organically as more native plants are planted every year, and more seeds and seedlings are available for harvest and sharing. In addition to increased knowledge among students, there will be a growing interest among neighbors in participating in this collaboration. Students will create an identification chart of natives to instruct others, and share that and other useful information via the school’s website so as to encourage others in the community to participate.
Every year, the community will achieve increased canopy cover and cooler temperatures that offset global warming as new groups of middle school students plant their natives. Finally, their work outdoors will have an additional long-lasting impact because student participants will gain a greater appreciation for nature. Imagine what can be achieved if more area schools joined in their efforts to make more and more native plants thrive in our community!