Partnerships Bring Garden to Life at Boerne Middle School North￼
By Amber Waltz (guest columnist from BISD – Science Teacher at BMSN)
They say, “it takes a village”. Two teachers had a dream of building a Conservation Garden at Boerne Middle School North (BMSN). Mrs. Nicole Willingam and Mrs. Amber Waltz had a vision to extend the classroom beyond traditional settings by expanding learning to take place outdoors. Gardening provides students with hands-on opportunities to gain knowledge and experience in an interactive setting while increasing environmental awareness. “It was a coincidence that we started this project together,” said Willingham. The two teachers not only wanted to work together to create a beautiful garden, but they also wanted to create a Monarch Waystation and bring their student together around a multidisciplinary and collaborate garden space in the courtyard of BMSN.
Willingam and Waltz quickly realized that a high caliber Conservation Garden would take more than just a few seeds. Garden boxes, plants, soil, a butterfly nursery, hydroponics, and much more would be needed. “Mrs. Willingham and I knew that the best thing about Boerne is that everyone is always willing to lend a helping hand.”, said Waltz. The generosity of parents was immediate. They donated lumber and other materials. Panache Landscaping provided soil and drainage materials. Several grants were awarded for plant purchases, including a Boerne Education Foundation grant. Many other BMSN teachers came together to build-out the garden. “After we had our garden built, we decided to reach out to our community for some expertise and advice”, said Willingham.
The Cibolo Conservation Center wanted to support what BMSN envisioned. The Cibolo’s Director of Programs Laurie Brown, and Vice President of Development, Leigh Owen became a consulting resource. Last summer, the Cibolo’s pollinator garden at Herff Farm was also recognized by the Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT). They were able to give advice on what plants would work best to provide a hospitable environment for and array of butterflies, birds and nature alike, as well as provide plants that would make a Monarch’s journey much more successful.
The sense of community began to become apparent. With everything set in place, students began to plant and begin observations. Fast forward into the second year. “This year is really when we have begun to see things come together. We received a second year of grants and funding, including a second BEF grant. Also, we went from contacting sources to them contacting us and wanting to be a part of our student led conservation efforts.”, said Willingham.
A partnership with NPSOT started when Willingham and Waltz began talks of recognizing the Conservation Garden as a Hill Country Pollinator Garden. The local NPSOT chapter was able to provide advice and plants that would allow the garden to become over 75% native. “This provided us a pivotal goal that would elevate our garden to what we had been hoping for. Students really wanted to meet the challenge of succeeding”, said Willingham and succeed they did!
The momentum did not stop there. With flowers blooming, caterpillars crawling, frogs singing, butterflies fluttering, students and staff began to see an entire ecosystem budding before their very eyes. Students saw value. In response, BMSN started a Conservation Club that meets weekly to work on new projects. Other clubs, classes, and teachers have volunteered to help as well. Students are involved in a global citizen’s science project via INaturalist. Not only do they document their research at the BMSN Conservation Garden, but also at the Boerne CVB, Welcome Center.
“It’s an amazing feeling to see how bright our future is with young conservationists standing before us. They are excited and they are learning the importance of our part in this world. One tiny seed can make way for an entire ecosystem”, said Waltz. What started as one small hope has turned in to a city-wide dream. Truth be told, it does take a village.
Last year, Mayor Handren signed the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, an initiative created by the National Wildlife Federation as a conservation effort to restore and create habitat for pollinators and Monarchs to thrive. As a driving partner of this initiative, the Cibolo collaborates with the City of Boerne and The Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas to encourage the community to take a deeper interest in saving all of the native pollinators who call Boerne home or pass through on migration paths. The Cibolo is a proud of Ms. Waltz, Ms. Willingham and the entire BMSN campus for their thoughtful dedication to nature and expanding the conservation learning of our future generations and conservation leaders.