Shorewood — The restored prairie area at Lake Bluff School has lessons to teach even when sleeping under the snows of winter.
As the prairie patch drifted off to sleep last fall, students in the multiage classrooms teamed up in groups of six, two from each of those classrooms, to study the root systems of the plants growing on the small hillside by the parking lot.
Kitty Moore, a teacher in one of the multiage classrooms, said the beginning of the prairie project dates back five years ago. The multiage teachers - Mike Roberts, Johanna French, Kelly Cassidy, Amy Miller and Sachin Pandya - and many children have been part of the effort, intended to be an outdoor laboratory for science, art and language arts. The school received an $850 grant from the Toshiba America Foundation to help plant the site.
Prairie as lab material
The prairie worked as intended, with the root system project engaging students in all three parts of the curriculum.
The roots of the prairie plants extend well below the surface of the ground, providing the explanation for how they survive periods of low or little rainfall. There are three types of roots: bulb, tap or fibrous.
One of the plants depicted on the wall is the Canada wild rye, with roots that grow 7 to 10 feet into the earth.
"I thought roots were only one to two feet long," said Kennedy Perez, an 8-year-old third-grader in the third/fourth grade multiage classroom.
"Usually you only get this much when you pull a weed," said 9-year-old Tyler Howard, indicating a foot width with his hands. He is part of the fourth grade in the multiage classroom. "I think it is pretty amazing at how small plants are and how long roots are."
Each school year, the students have kept journals, recording in drawings and notes their observations of the prairie.
The hillside prairie is the second location for the project, which was moved to help the plants flourish. Andrew Riebau, a village resident who is a landscape designer, suggested the current location and also the native plants used in the small prairie.
Some native plants do better in urban settings than other, Riebau said. The students planted 26 prairie species, 2,200 individual plantings in all.
"More than 50 percent of the plants are grasses to control soil erosion," Riebau said. "The soil was very poor but over the course of several seasons, it will be amended by the plants themselves."
The prairie, Riebau said, is a mesic medium grass replication. The three most common grasses growing on the hillside are little Bluestem, prairie drop seed, and Side-Oats Gamma.
Moore said the teachers would like to expand the prairie but until the village decides on the plans for the Lake Bluff playground area, the expansion is on hold.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Police Report: May 20
- Mequon author discusses research book at North Shore library
- Shorewood Schools Business Manager moves on
- Police Report: May 13
- Elmbrook recommends Stormonth's Westfahl as new Brookfield Elementary principal
- News & Notes: May 8
- Stein's Gardens and Gifts again takes root in Shorewood
- NSFD board trying to take funding formula discussion behind closed doors
- Shorewood repairing meter to prevent water main breaks