Saving Planet Earth at Hearst school
When it comes to observing Earth Day next Tuesday, students and their parents at Hearst Elementary School have to go no farther than to their new outdoor classroom and science teacher Kim Lounsbury. Affectionately called the Queen of Green and a teacher for the last 12 years, she has the responsibility of teaching science to the school's 604 first- to fifth-graders. Planet Earth is her favorite topic so Earth Day gives her a chance to talk about one of her biggest passions, the outdoor garden classroom she is building just outside the school lunchroom. She started the project when Hearst and its principal Mike Kuhfal embraced the school district's "Go Green" environmental program. After several years of hard work, it's taking shape.
Measuring 82-by-82 feet, this is no ordinary backyard garden. Each plant has a mission, including the freshly planted milkweed that Lounsbury hopes will attract back the Monarch butterflies that used to flutter through the area but are gradually disappearing. The Monarch is actually the Hearst symbol and each year the school's second grade classes release butterflies they've raised as caterpillars at home. Instead of flying away, Lounsbury hopes her garden will provide the food sources Monarch's need. With the help of parent volunteers, including Robyn Battaglia, a botanist, and her husband Paul Hrycewicz, a computer sales manager with obvious carpentry skills, she has moved 10 cubic yards of soil into six separate garden areas, with wood sides to mound the gardens and even an arbor that will someday be covered by vines. Although $44,000 has been spent on the project so far, most has come from grants with less than $3,000 from school district funds.
As skilled at writing grants as she is at teaching science,
Lounsbury has received so much money in project grant that fellow teachers joke that the school district should send her to Sacramento to help bail out the state's financial deficit. One of her major purchases was an $11,000 in-vessel composting system called the Earth Tub. This 4-foot-high, 6-foot-wide electric unit has a power auger that operates continuously. At lunchtime, parent volunteer Iris Gan helps Lounsbury and other teachers work with children to put recyclables in special bins and anything that can be composted into the Earth Tub. One of Lounsbury's pet peeves has been the waste she sees in the lunchroom, from half-eaten apples to bananas that are never peeled but grabbed from the lunch line because they're there. In a stepped-up campaign to educate students about waste, Lounsbury has cut discards by half.
Lounsbury's mission as a science teacher is to teach children to become stewards of the earth. She considers her job much more than academics. Her message to children is that they already are scientists because they behave that way. They ask a lot of questions, they are curious and they try to find the answers. She teaches them the five basic principles of the GREEN initiative: G is for generate compost; R=recycle everything that cannot be reused and purchase only items that can be recycled; E=educate them on environmentally responsible behavior; E=evaluate the environmental impact on every activity; and, N=nationalize the principles of responsible paper consumption.
Her outdoor classroom garden, where her students have planted saplings and perennials, sits in striking contrast to Hearst's manicured play fields that stretch to Valley Avenue. Besides the mounded sections of dirt and plants, eight benches circle on the center where classes, demonstrations and Planet Earth preservation lessons are conducted. The surroundings will be enhanced even more tomorrow when another 4,000 pounds of rocks will be moved from the school parking lot to the garden. Lounsbury needs volunteers from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to help. Come by if you can.