Fifth Graders and Land Trust Collaborate on Signs


By Justin McCabe, Pilot Intern on January 24, 2013

A collaboration between fifth graders at John Read Middle School and the Redding Land Trust continues to enrich a local nature preserve with the upcoming installation of an informational sign in the Saugatuck Falls Natural Area.

The sign, second in an ongoing project by the students of Bonnie Spies and Heather Sam, will educate visitors to the natural preserve on Connecticut’s white oak trees.

Last year’s fifth graders visited the Saugatuck Falls area, located across the street from the middle school, to research the white oak and compile historical and scientific information as well as artwork to be later made into the sign.

This spring, the now sixth graders will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor when the sign is unveiled at the Redding Land Trust’s annual meeting in April and installed in the preserve in May.

The genesis of the project came two years ago with a partnership between the classes of Ms. Spies and Ms. Sam and Sean McNamara, a member of the town’s land trust and a town tree warden.

“We had been planning other learning activities with Mr. McNamara, and in that collaboration we came up with this idea,” said Ms. Spies, who teaches language arts and social studies.

“We knew we had this incredible resource across the street and we happened to be lucky to have Mr. McNamara’s son in our class. We started visiting the trail and he volunteered his time, and through various conversations we realized that the community had a lot to offer us to help utilize that space,” she explained.

With the help of Mr. McNamara, funding from the land trust and volunteers from the community were found to lead workshops and walks with the students in the Saugatuck Falls Natural Area. These activities were tied in with writing projects assigned in Ms. Spies’ class.

“We were looking for some sort of real-life writing experiences. And we were also looking for ways to encourage other classes to use the trail,” said Ms. Spies.

Mr. McNamara was equally enthusiastic about the opportunity being afforded to the students.

“Instead of reading it in a book or watching it on TV, they’re seeing these things and learning about them in the field,” he said.

The result of this first collaboration was a sign on white pine trees, which was installed last May and can currently be seen near the entrance to the preserve.

This year’s sign on the white oak, the tree depicted on Connecticut’s state quarter and in state lore as the “Charter Oak”, will precede the work of current fifth graders on another sign to be readied for next year, that one on birds found within the Saugatuck Falls Natural Area.

Both Ms. Spies and Mr. McNamara hope to continue the project indefinitely and to make a sort of yearly tradition out of the unveiling and installation of the signs.

“We have to give a big credit to the Redding Land Trust because they are the ones who find the funding for us,” said the teacher, appreciation that is shared by the other half of the partnership as well.

“The Land Trust is really happy with all the work Bonnie Spies has done to get the kids outside to use the resource across the street and get them learning about nature hands on,” said Mr. McNamara.

The unveiling of this year’s white oak sign will be at the trust’s annual meeting, hosted at Highstead on April 7.

“It’s not just for the school, it’s their project but it’s for everybody in the community to come out and see,” said Mr. McNamara. “We encourage everyone to come out and enjoy the signs as they go in and the project progresses, and to learn about what is out there in the nature preserve.”