Second-grade students of Fiske Elementary School plonked their feet into the soil of the school’s newly constructed pollinator garden, digging holes into the ground with miniature shovels to make room for their plants. Hands caked with dirt, they carefully placed the plants into the soil. 

Fiske Elementary School students work on their pollinator garden. Credit: Olivia LeDuc.

At the Harrington, Estabrook and Fiske elementary schools in Lexington, kindergarten to fifth-grade students have been researching and planting pollinator gardens on school grounds with the goal of better understanding the importance of pollinators and human connectedness with nature.

After months of researching their assigned plants during the late winter months, the actual planting was set in motion on Wednesday, May 24 for Fiske Elementary students. 

One student, Enzo Lang, excitedly planted a spotted beebalm and said he was unafraid to get his hands dirty. 

Another student, Emily Sun, sat with her knees in the soil and said she had never touched the dirt with her bare hands before. It “relieved stress” from everyday classroom activities, she said.  

The pollinator garden initiative is led by Lexington Public Schools employees, including LPS kindergarten to fifth-grade science curriculum coordinator Karen McCarthy and project leaders Trevor Smith and Rosanne Barbacano. 

Some of the native plants included in the school’s pollinator gardens are no longer found enough in nature, but are necessary for bee and butterfly species, explained Smith, the design and education manager at Weston Nurseries. 

“It is important to have these plants to support the life cycles of our insects that are a huge part of the food chain,” Smith said. 

Throughout the day, he handed out pots of plants and demonstrated to students how to properly bed their plants for a total bloom. 

The pollinator garden labs project was developed in February of 2022 when retired LPS elementary educator Barbacano, then a second-grade teacher at Bowman Elementary School, went into the school’s yard and noticed a “blank canvas” absent of plant life. 

“The newest landscaping took the greenery out against the building,” Barbacano said. “There was just mulch and brick.”

Barbacano started reaching out to different organizations to design a pollinator garden with students and came into contact with Smith, who suggested meshing the idea into the classroom’s different subject areas.

“Trevor got the kids and me excited about activism, and that we were going to help save around 30,000 native species,” with the native garden installations, Barbacano said. 

Teaching about pollinator plants and the role of endangered native pollinators, or “friends,” and the impact of student activism on sustaining environmental ecosystems successfully overlapped with the subjects of teaching, she said. 

Since then, the project has expanded to other elementary schools in the district through a Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) grant. 

Barbacano said the continuous learning process about pollinator gardens would hopefully provide year-round educational value to the students.

“These students can have a purpose and feel good — their education is directed somewhere. They can go outside and appreciate green.”

“When we feel so powerless against climate change, all it takes is one plant on your patio to make a difference,” Smith said.

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