SONG Program Brings Student, Volunteer, and AWS Staff Cooperation To A New Level

The AWS education team has been keeping busy this fall working with area students and volunteers to improve the biodiversity within the watershed.  Saving Our Native Grasslands (SONG) is a new program we have created to bolster the efforts of our stewardship team in their work on the Anacostia Riparian Meadow Restoration project (ARMR).

Maury Elementary 5th graders and volunteers from Dutko Grayling

There were two major goals for SONG. The first goal was to find ways to support and strengthen the work of ARMR by increasing native vegetation and thereby increasing the habitat for native fauna. The second goal was to engage local communities, especially school kids, in understanding and taking ownership for their natural environment. I am very pleased to say that both goals were achieved and the synergy created between departments here at AWS was only surpassed by the level of fulfillment we observed as local community members and corporate groups volunteered their time to help facilitate this project with nearly 300 local students.

 

Eaton volunteers collect meadow seeds

The project itself had several components. Each class of students was visited by an AWS educator for a lesson about the watershed. The students were then invited on a field trip to one of our project sites for hands-on authentic stewardship work. While the main component of the workday was the building of birdhouses, we also spent time collecting a variety of seeds for transplanting, removing invasive species, and reseeding cleared areas. Once the work was complete, students returned on a second day for a pontoon boat tour of the upper Anacostia River to gain a new perspective on the watershed and to see firsthand how their great work was benefitting local wildlife.

6th graders from Spellman head out on the pontoon

This project was a success for many reasons. We built 100 birdhouses for installation at our restoration sites and around the watershed (each school was able to take a few home to be installed in their schoolyard). We also collected countless seeds from Partridge Pea, Late Flowering Boneset, Goldenrod, and Indian Grass. We planted these as well as New England Asters and Wild Rye in meadow areas that were freshly cleared of exotic invasive plants.

SONG was also a success as a community building event. Roughly 300 students from Rock View Elementary, Maury Elementary, Brent Elementary, Spellman Elementary, and E.L. Haines Public Charter School were engaged in this project. We were also very fortunate to have 100 volunteers from Eaton, Dutko Grayling, Youth for Understanding, Synopsys, August Jackson, Daimler, the National Parks Conservation Association, and local folks from Hyattsville and Bladensburg to work with these students and truly make this a great experience. There is no doubt that this became a situation where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts and none of this would have been possible without our curious students and our dedicated volunteers.

E.L. Haynes students and Eaton volunteers display their birdhouse

Finally, I believe that SONG can be an exemplar for future AWS programming. The stewardship team was able to find areas within their projects that needed help. The education team was able to find specific, curriculum-appropriate tasks within the project needs for local students and recruit excited teachers and classes. Our volunteer coordinator then found motivated volunteers that were necessary to see that each student would be engaged and successful in their work. We engaged students as young as second grade and volunteers who are retirees. We worked with schools in D.C., as well as Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. I can’t overstate how fulfilling it was for all involved to experience this level of collaboration. With projects such as this it is clear that we all share a common interest in preserving a healthy environment.

For the next round of this project, we will need volunteers to install the birdhouses and we have already begun discussing building boxes for bats as well as for native pollinators in the future. If you have any ideas or just want to help out, send me an email at clemieux@anacostiaws.org. I’m looking forward to working with you.

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