The Public School 4 Annex in the highly urbanized municipality of West New York, New Jersey, is trying to expose youth to natural features like bird habitats and build their awareness of wildlife and gardening despite the limited green space within the densely populated area clustered around New York City. As project leader Gisela Ferrer wrote us, “By exposing them to nature at an early age, we hope they will be encouraged to pursue the natural sciences in school or as careers.”
The plan is to develop a wildlife garden, created by volunteer parents, students, teachers and community members, that attracts birds, beneficial insects and other wildlife. It will be used as a “discovery” garden for student lessons on native plants, insects, birds and other neighborhood animals, and an opening educational event will highlight the efforts of the volunteer team and provide information on urban wildlife and gardening through student art projects.
This habitat garden will consist of a combination of in-ground plantings, raised beds, planter boxes and pots. Although most of the property is either paved or compacted and makes traditional gardening a challenge, the project team sees value in incorporating as much vegetation as possible by any means necessary, since West New York is highly urbanized and in dire need of added green space.
The program will be conducted in coordination with the school district’s larger effort to promote fresh and locally-grown fruits and vegetables in its breakfast and lunch cafeteria program. Fresh fruits and vegetables have been successfully incorporated into the food service program over the last five years, leading to the installation of edible gardens for multiple schools within the district, as well as contracts with local farms. The habitat garden will create a more robust gardening program for students to enjoy. The gardening and nutrition program is very important in West New York because of the limited student exposure to agriculture and natural ecological systems.
The educational event will include a demonstration of the 10-minute CUBs bird observation, so teachers and students will have performed some practice observations in advance as part of their lessons on birds and wildlife. Youth will develop artwork and handmade posters of birds they have seen on the school grounds or in public parks, incorporating their observations and data into their work. During the event, they will share the artwork and posters with visitors and also lead adult participants in performing a demonstration of a CUBs observation. Students will also create and decorate birdhouses to put in various locations on the school grounds.