Kindergarteners across the state are learning about paper, wood and trees in their classrooms, but McIlvaine Early Childhood Center students will soon have a chance to see firsthand how they all work together in the school’s new arboretum.
McIlvaine received a $3,000 grant from the American Forest Foundation to plant an arboretum made up of native Delaware trees on the school’s campus. The grant was made possible through the foundation’s environmental education program, Project Learning Tree.
“The arboretum is actually an idea that has been discussed for a couple of years now,” said McIlvaine Principal Dr. Sherry Kijowski. “One of our goals is to make sure that the campus of McIlvaine is as much of a learning tool as the things that we put in the classroom.”
The school was able to apply for the Project Learning Tree grant after staff participated in Project Learning Tree training. Teachers also incorporate the program’s activities into the school’s curriculum. McIlvaine is the only school in the state to have received a Project Learning Tree grant, Kijowski said.
The funding will be used to build an outdoor learning space with amphitheater-style seating at the back of the McIlvaine campus. A few of the trees already on the grounds, such as the American holly and magnolia, will be designated as a part of the arboretum and an additional 10 trees will be planted throughout the campus. Those entering the arboretum will begin near the school’s front office and will follow a path that winds around the perimeter of the campus.
Parents have volunteered to plant the trees and a local landscaping company, Lawns Plus Inc., has volunteered to consult the school during the process, Kijowski said.
A committee of teachers, known as the Green Team, will work on designing activities that will allow students to use the arboretum as a learning experience, Kijowski said.
“They’re going to be able to have the use of almost all five of their senses worked into the arboretum,” said Erin Stock, chair of the Green Team. “They will hear things, see things, smell things, do some investigating and exploring, and see the change of seasons.”
Signs will be situated near each tree, identifying the type in three different languages − English, Mandarin and Spanish. McIlvaine currently hosts a Chinese language immersion program and will host a Spanish immersion program next year.
The arboretum will also make teaching certain units easier for teachers, Stock said. As part of the wood, trees and paper segment of the kindergarten curriculum, teachers bring in different examples of leaves and items like pine cones. The arboretum will allow teachers to let students collect those items on their own. Learning to describe the items the students find on the trees will help them develop their vocabulary.
Page 2 of 2 - The plan is to have the new arboretum in place in time to unveil it around Arbor Day, but a lot of the work that will go into the arboretum is contingent on weather, Kijowski said.
Kijowski said the arboretum will remain open to the community at the end of the school day. It will be open to students, families and the community after hours and on weekends.
The arboretum has the potential to be a learning environment for all, said Stock.
“It’s going to be a very positive thing for the community,” Stock said. “People could come here and walk around and learn about trees and the environment they grown in.”
The arboretum will also give the students at McIlvaine the opportunity to explore the world around them, Stock said.
“I hope it brings the outside in,” she said. “Kids don’t go outside and play as much as they used to, so they don’t have the opportunity to explore new and exciting things. This will bring a lot of excitement to the kids.”