BEEKMANTOWN - Since January, eighth graders in the food and fitness class at Beekmantown Middle School have been learning the benefits of gardens.
However, the garden created by the students is not your typical vegetable or plant garden. It was created to be a wildlife habitat.
After receiving a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, Cornell Cooperative Extension contacted local schools who may be interested in using the grant money for such a garden.
"[BMS] showed a great need for it and they talked about how they could use it in their school," explained Alexa King, a youth development educator with CCE. "It wouldn't be something they just did now and abandoned."
The project began with CCE horticulturist Anne Lenox Barlow doing a lot of hands-on activities using the National Wildlife Federation curriculum.
"We took them to view local wildlife habitats at Point au Roche park. We took them to The Wild Center," she said. "Then, I had a group of Master Gardeners work on a list of plants that would be good for a wildlife habitat garden."
The students chose which animals they hoped to attract to their wildlife garden.
"They wanted butterflies, birds, specifically some hummingbirds, and then chipmunks, snakes," Barlow said.
On May 24, students began work on planting various trees and plants that will attract the animals throughout the year, and included a rock pile for the snakes and chipmunks to use for shelter.
"They had to choose things that would be in bloom at different times of the season so that there is always something in bloom for the birds," Barlow explained.
The students also added a solar-powered fountain, one of the final touches so the garden can be certified by the NWF.
On June 8, the students completed the garden by adding a birdfeeder.
"This is the completed project," Barlow said, looking out at the garden. "It'll look a lot better as the plants continue to grow and fill it out."
One student, Alesha McElwey, found the entire experience to be very beneficial.
"It was actually really fun to actually be outside and doing something new," she said. "I always love being outside."
"It's really pretty when people drive by it," McElwey added. "I see them slow down and actually look at it."
Another student, Jordynne Ales, was also able to take a great deal out of the experience.
"It was fun learning about what different animals need for their living habitats," she explained.
As for the future of the garden, Barlow is already working towards gathering teachers for September to give a class on garden-based learning.
"How you can build a garden with your class and how you can use it to actually meet the needs of your class and state standards," she said. "We're going to use that research and use this as a model for other teachers in the area."