Editor’s note: this story is part of a series The Tribune is writing on local clubs.
Elkin High’s environmental club is a year old this month, and already the members have broken new ground at the school.
The club helps with recycling efforts on campus but also works in the school’s new garden. The garden and the resulting vegetables, fruits, herbs, and perennial flowers, are the visible signs of the behind-the-scenes effort.
The environmental club is the first in the school’s history, offering students the chance to help with fight pollution while learning natural ways to grow and care for plants. The students are taught how to be part climatologists, part farmers in hopes the interest they show in the environment now will continue long after high school.
English teacher April Swarey and science teacher Ruthann McComb are the faculty advisers for the club. They began the club as part of a call to action by the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE).
A guest speaker from ACE spoke in April 2012 to the high school, urging the school to create a club to raise awareness about the environment and to make changes to improve its state. McComb felt she could get behind the idea, and thought she could be an adviser.
In the fall semester of 2012 the club had 20 members. Students have “boosted” the existing recycling around the high school, which includes plastic, paper, and aluminum cans.
Each classroom has a recycling bin that gets emptied regularly by students. Faculty members are sent an email notifying them when the pickup will occur.
“The club’s main goal is to raise awareness about environmental issues [to explore] what actions students can take to improve these issues, to encourage students who wish to study these topics after high school, and to build partnerships between EHS and community organizations,” McComb said.
The garden is the centerpiece of the club’s activity. McComb and Swarey met students at the school over summer break to start the garden in June 2012. Swarey said many students showed up and never complained or slacked off.
The garden was fertilized and prepared for planting in the fall, but maintenance workers mistook the plot for a bare patch of ground and seeded it with fescue. The effects are still evident, but Swarey said she “had never seen grass grow so well.”
The advisers hope that continued tilling over several seasons and the somewhat frail nature of fescue’s heat tolerance will allow the garden to naturally reclaim its borders without using Roundup.
The first spring planting day is Earth Day, April 22. The advisers tilled the ground over the weekend, allowing students to start planting after school at 3 p.m. Monday.
Deer and groundhogs have been a menace to the garden due to the appeal of the sweet potatoes and other crops grown. Advisers are in the process of seeking donations and grants to fund a eight feet tall fence to exclude the deer and other animals from entering.
Advisers will write grants during the summer months while class is out to secure the $1,500 needed. Donations are also accepted.
To combat the deer until the fence is purchased students will use plants that are not typically preferences of deer. Irish potatoes, onions, garlic and many items in the nightshade family may lessen the effect deer and groundhogs have on the garden.
The club also aids other organizations. The garden provides food for classes at the high school to prepare as part of their cooking curriculum. The garden saves the classes money on groceries and also gives them healthy, locally grown produce.
Club members also helped the Elkin Valley Trails Association with its trail construction on March 23. Students helped at the Stone Mountain end of the trail to clear it for its future opening.
McComb said the club was also exploring partnerships with Trout Unlimited, Yadkin Riverkeeper, and the Town of Elkin’s Parks and Recreation Department for specialized projects. The Elkin Garden Club and the Surry County Cooperative Extension are aiding in the garden project.
The Garden Club has promised the students a bench for the garden. McComb and Swarey are expecting to divide the garden into sections based on the type of plants growing, with the provided bench at one corner and a birdbath in the center. Fruit trees are also a future goal.
In the short time it has been active Elkin High’s Environmental Club has made efforts that benefited the students, not just of the club, but of the whole school.
Meetings are held one Friday each month at 7:30 a.m. in McComb’s class.
To contact Taylor Pardue call 336-835-1513 ext. 15, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.