MOUNT ZION -- Tryton Stanley was able to get his hands dirty on Wednesday morning.
Luckily, playing in the dirt was not only allowed but encouraged by his teachers.
Stanley was among the 180 students from Mount Zion Grade School who got to plant the future of the school district. Specifically, the planting of two, one-acre wildlife conservation areas on the west side of the high school campus.
The Lincolnland Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Chapter, in partnership with the Macon County Conservation District, Trees Forever, Decatur Audubon Society and the Sangamon Valley Beekeepers Association, put on an education day for Mount Zion third-graders to teach them about pollinators and about the importance of natural habitats for native wildlife.
As principal of the grade school, and a member of the local chapter of Pheasants Forever, Gary Gruen said Wednesday was the perfect chance to mix his two interests.
“I was talking to (local chapter president) Dan Reynolds, and he was mentioning these pollinator projects going in for kids to participate in and learn more,” Gruen said. “And I thought, ‘That’s just a great thing for us,’ because we have enough grass lying around here that we could put one in.”
Students first went station to station, where officials from the different agencies taught them about topics such as conservation, pollinators, insects and beekeeping. When done there, the students had a chance to scatter buckets full of seed and some small plants to bring life to the empty lots.
When fully grown in two to three years, the areas will be integrated into the science curriculum as students will be able to learn about the habitat and wildlife, Gruen said.
The hope for Gruen and others is that with the students doing the planting themselves they will grow an additional attachment, not only to the plots of land, but also the idea of conservation.
The $3,000 cost of the project was covered by a donation from the Hedenberg family, with supplies, materials and equipment purchased through Pheasants Forever.
The donation was made in memory of Paul Hedenberg, who believed in the importance of teaching youth about conservation.
Paul’s brother, Harold, was on hand Wednesday morning and said his brother would have been proud to see the kids be so excited about the project.
Stanley was definitely excited as he grabbed seeds out of the bucket to spread across the plot of land. He said he had learned a lot about conservation so far and looked forward to seeing the plants grow in the coming years.
“We’re giving trees to the future generations,” he said.
The project is part of an initiative that the Pheasants Forever group has undertaken recently across the country, with the hope that it will better educate students on the importance of prairies in the ecosystem.
“So much of agriculture now eliminates your wild grasses and many of the plants being planted today,” Reynolds said. “A lot of times, you go home and people will say, ‘Those are weeds, and we need to get rid of them,’ but not all of them are bad, and we want to teach them that.”