By Lonnie Huhman
Getting outdoors and doing their part to help the ecosystem around Mill Creek Middle School is part of an elective course that has Dexter seventh-and eighth-graders learning about environmental stewardship.
On Oct. 29, a group of 10 Mill Creek students ventured to their outdoor classroom to remove invasive trees from the schoolyard and replace them with native plants. The students had clippers, handsaws and other tools to do the job.
“It’s more work than I expected, but that’s what I like about it,” seventh-grader Ryleigh Williams said as she and her classmates set about cutting down Buckthorn trees and shrubs.
Cheryl Darnton, who has taught the course for the past 17 years, has taught the students the Buckthorn is classified as an invasive plant in Michigan.
According to the Michigan.gov website, Buckthorn spreads quickly through seeds distributed by birds and wildlife and, “crowds out native shrubs and understory plants and as an invasive species can cause harm when they out-compete native species by reproducing and spreading rapidly in areas where they have no natural predators and change the balance of the ecosystems we rely on.
Darnton said the course has a number of positive outcomes for the students. From learning responsibility as they use the tools under her supervision to respect for the world of plants and vegetation around them, students are getting a hands-on and in-depth look at botany, ecology and science in this course.
For the lesson of taking down invasive trees and replacing them with native plants such as Milkweed, Darnton said students are learning the best practices for understanding what invasive trees to how to cut them down properly and safely to replacing them with new plantings.
Eighth-grader Connor Owen-Smith said he has taken the course before and loves it, so he is in it again and doing his part during the invasive tree work.
“I like being outside and doing some different things,” he said as he hauled away a pile of small Buckthorn cuttings.
He and his classmates were taught to identify the Buckthorn through its markings, and with the occasional help from Darnton, who said the final exam for students has them identifying plants.
She said it’s important for the students to know the names of the plants.
“It helps them care about them,” she said comparing it to when a person gets to know the names of others, making it more personal.