Students at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora are taking on a multidecade prairie restoration project that involves students in every step of the process, from planting seeds to transplanting seedlings into a hillside near their school.
“This is one of the most unique, coolest classes I’ve taken here,” student Ben Martinese said recently as he crouched with trowel in hand, testing out various digging techniques at the prairie. “I haven’t done anything like this in any other class. Mr. Armstrong is a really cool teacher.”
Teacher Carl Armstrong says his students are continuing a prairie restoration and reconstruction project at the west suburban school that started with the class of 2001. It now stretches about a mile long. Students this year are planting 3,500 plants, including Indian grass, milkweed and coneflowers.
Armstrong says Illinois’ moniker is “the Prairie State,” but there’s actually little prairie left. He says the students are helping to restore the area to what it was like in pre-settlement time, when it was Potawatomi land.
“This place soaks up rainwater like no other ecosystem does,” he said. “It stores carbon in the roots. It is a pollinator habitat. I’ve seen hummingbirds flit up and down the hill all morning long.”
Eventually, as the plants settle in and spread, Armstrong expects to see more wildlife like eagles and ospreys. He was happy to see seniors so interested, even showing up for class on senior ditch day, to plant their work.
He says it’s student work that will last for decades.
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