Chris Voight's seventh- and eighth-grade students spend a lot of time outside their classroom. Voight's room is set back from other buildings at J.D. Floyd School of Environmental Science, at the edge of the woods.
Her students have spent the past two years improving some of the land to lure critters such as butterflies, birds and bats. Voight has collected a number of grants to expand the butterfly garden, hang birdhouses, nesting boxes and bat boxes and build an outdoor classroom.
"We did a whole restoration project," she said last week. They hope to attract jays, chickadees and robins with birdbaths, the birdhouses and bird feeders. There is a cleared area where students planted flowers for butterflies and citrus.
After researching bats, the students went out and priced bat houses, hoping to bring in fruit bats and brown bats.
Voight used six grants for all this: a $500 memorial J.S. Butler Grant; two from the Hernando County Education Foundation, totaling $1,600; $1,000 from American Forest Foundation's Project Learning Tree; a State Farm $1,000 Youth American Service Grant; and a $6,000 Toolbox Grant from Lowe's.
The Education Foundation grants funded There's No Place Like Home, the project to attract the birds, bats, butterflies. The Lowe's grant financed the student-built outdoor classroom.
The store's commercial sales representative, Dolores Arcuri, went to the school to instruct and supervise the building project. The funding provided 6-inch square pavers, benches and a pergola (the structure that holds the canopy over the paved area and benches). The money also provided gardening tools and wheelbarrows.
"It was a lot of work, but it was worth it," said eighth-grader Lexie Celt, 14. "We've planted lots of plants to attract lots of native birds and butterflies, and I think that's a major accomplishment that most eighth-graders don't get to do."
Lexie has been in one of Voight's classes for all three of her years at J.D. Floyd and next year she'll be at Springstead High School. She expects her time studying and working in the outdoors will help her.
"I'll understand about the environment," she said. She also suggested the classes might direct her future path.
Eighth-grader Shaneska Blake, 13, has been with Voight for two years. She said all the projects have helped her learn more about the planet. "My favorite was planting all those butterfly plants," she said. "I like gardening a lot."
Kayleigh Nelson, 14, is another eighth-grader who has been in two of Voight's classes. She has learned, "the amount of discipline you need to take care of a garden," she said. "It really impressed me how much work it takes to keep a garden, but it's worth the outcome."
Kayleigh said she would like to have a garden at home, but has one major stumbling block. "It's kind of hard when all you have is sand."
After two years of outdoor improvements tied into environmental lessons, Voight shows no signs of stopping. If she can get the necessary grants, she said, she hopes to start some hydroponic gardens and grow organic food. She expects she can sell it to a local organic food market and work some business lessons into the science.
Paulette Lash Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.