Around the Archdiocese

St. Columbkille students have hoedown, plant prairie

Growing a ‘natural playground’ that will enhance learning

By Jill Kruse

Witness Editorial Assistant

DUBUQUE — The students’ excitement was evident on their smiling faces as they filed out of St. Columbkille Catholic Elementary School in Dubuque and gathered together on a plot of dirt behind their school’s playground on Thursday, Nov. 17.

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School officials had chosen the unseasonably warm autumn day to restore a one-acre prairie on their school ­property, and they were enlisting the help of St. Columbkille’s 240 students to get the job done.

Once outside, students were asked to spread themselves out over the piece of bare ground, as teachers gave each of them a handful of prairie grass and flower seeds.

After a short prayer service, students were encouraged to scatter their seeds, and, as “hoedown” music was played, they stomped and danced the seeds into the earth.

“It was fun sprinkling the seeds and knowing that we can have our own prairie!” said Jessica Deaver, a St. Columbkille’s third-grader.

“I liked it because it brings back the past and how it was a long time ago,” fourth-grader Isabella Eisbach said after the prairie planting ceremony was over. “It is good for our school, air and everything.”

The prairie at St. Columbkille’s was initially planted in 2011, but over time had become overgrown and was in need of major restoration. The school uses the prairie to provide a unique learning experience for its students.

Teachers incorporate the prairie in their lessons on native plants and pollinators, water quality, and pioneer life and Iowa history.

The prairie is also used in art classes as students draw the plants they find there.

“Through the prairie, we are providing a natural ‘playground’ for children to explore and discover the wonders of nature,” said Barb Roling, the school’s principal. “It brings the classroom outside and integrates with multiple curricular areas. This is an opportunity to teach stewardship and caring for God’s earth.”

Students at St. Columbkille Catholic Elementary School in Dubuque scatter grass and flower seeds and then stomp them into the earth as they help to restore a prairie behind their school playground on Nov. 17. (Photo by Jill Kruse/The Witness)