Sustainability Work Sprouting Up All Over Campus This Spring
Sustainability Work Sprouting Up All Over Campus This Spring
Liz Torrey

As the green returns to the grounds and fields of St. Andrew's campus, students and faculty alike have been diving into sustainability initiatives this spring. Students planted a pollinator garden on the Front Lawn; faculty involved their classrooms in the School's annual Teach in for the Planet; and a St. Andrew's contingent joined the more than 200,000 protesters at the People's Climate March in Washington, D.C. on April 29.

From Wednesday, April 19 through Friday, April 21, the School's Green Council held its second annual Teach-In for the Planet. During the Teach-In, faculty are encouraged to incorporate some aspect of environmental sustainability into their classroom teaching. Thirty-one classrooms across all disciplines participated in the 2017 Teach-In, up from 21 at last year's Teach-In. This year's classes included:

  • Emily Pressman's U.S. History: Research Challenges discussed the Dust Bowl as a cause of the Great Depression and examined the environmental aspects and agencies of the New Deal.
  • Honors Physics and Environmental Science students toured the new Health Center building (slated to open this summer) and learned about its many sustainability improvements.
  • John Burk's Computer Science students built an app that measures a user's everyday water consumption.
  • Tad Roach's English 3 students explored the theme of nature in Anna Karenina.
  • Dave Miller's Spanish 3 students debated the environmental impacts of the Panama Canal.
  • Terence Gilheany's History of the Middle East students discussed water scarcity in the Middle East and its effects on past and future conflicts in that region.
  • Sara O'Connor's Chemistry class measured the amount of carbon dioxide produced by St. Andrew's annual Frosty Run and presented their findings at School Meeting the following week.

The Teach-In for the Planet was originally inspired by a suggestion from former Environmental Stewards Captain Brooke McIlvaine '16. "Sustainability themes are already embedded in many aspects of our curriculum," explained Director of Sustainability Diana Burk, "but the goal was to encourage faculty to do more," particularly during Earth Week.

"The impact of the Teach-In has been impressive," Burk continued. "For the past two years, for example, Kellyann Conners has asked her religion classes to discuss pollution of the Ganges River and how that impacts Hindu worship in India. Kellyann recently heard from one of her former students, Alexia Ildefonso '16. Because of what she learned in Kellyann's class during the Teach-In, Alexia is now developing a major project associated with the pollution of the Ganges River and raising awareness about the issue at her college."

The pollinator garden was the brainchild of Alex Hopkins '18 (seen here), who became interested in the idea through conversations with a local environmental activist and botanist during the summer of 20176. "I asked her what would be a project that a school could undertake and complete in a year that would have lasting positive effects on the community and environment," Alex recalled. "She immediately suggested a pollinator garden, and explained how it helps support endangered pollinators, especially honeybees and certain species of butterflies." Alex presented her idea to the Environmental Stewards at the beginning of the school year, and together they began planning and working to secure a grant to provide for the necessary plantings. She designed a 15 foot by 10 foot garden containing more than 160 pollinator plants, such as goldenrod, purple coneflower, and milkweed. Alex noted that she worked particularly closely with Burk, Grounds Supervisor Phil Pensinger, and local landscape architect Serah Pesce to bring the project to fruition.

"Alex is passionate about joining the fight to save key pollinators species like monarch butterflies and bees," Burk said. "Because of habitat reduction from conventional agriculture and residential development, which encourages the use of weed-free lawns, bee populations and butterfly populations have dwindled. This year, the migratory monarch butterfly population has seen an 80% reduction from its peak in the mid-1990s. This January was also the first year that the rusty-patched bumblebee, once common in the United States, was listed as an endangered species."

The pollinator garden will support the local ecosystem and to provide shelter and food for monarch butterflies on their spring migration north from Mexico. Female monarch butterflies lay their eggs in milkweed plants during this spring journey, and milkweed is the only plant that monarch larvae will eat. All of the flowering plants in the garden will bloom throughout the growing season and provide food for both monarchs, bees, and other pollinators (such as hummingbirds).

Alex and her fellow Environmental Stewards (plus the faculty Eco-Kids Club) planted the garden on April 21, near the shore of Noxontown Pond, on the slope of the hill in front of the Library. "While this project is not as big or progressive as the solar panels installed a few years ago," Alex said, "it is a project that will begin to take action immediately. My hope is that within one to two years, most of the seedlings that we planted will have bloomed, and many more pollinators will have somewhere to live and thrive here on campus."

In other campus-planting news, Environmental Science students planted trees along Possum Creek on April 25. Brian Marsh of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (New Jersey field office) was visiting the class that day and assisted with the planting. The new trees will help stem creek bed erosion, improve water quality, and provide nutrient-rich berries for birds and other wildlife.

On Saturday, April 29, a group of about thirty students and faculty traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in the 2017 People's Climate March and to advocate for proactive governmental action against climate change. The 91-degree weather was "uncomfortable," Burk said, "but it seemed appropriate that day of the Climate March was another record-breakingly hot day in D.C."

"We were part of a movement of over 200,000 marchers in Washington D.C. today," said Peter McLean upon returning that evening, "and we were so impressed with the energy and beauty and spectacle. Quite an effort to help us think about our place in this world, how we can treat it and each other better so that others who follow can appreciate its abundance and beauty as well. We must continue to respond. Thank you to our responders, our ambassadors, our marchers as they well represented all of us and felt our spirit, and to Ms. Burk and others for organizing us and helping to make it happen."