Ecology Club wins $10K grant to restore school grounds, educate East students

Senior Ecology Club member Farris Elkhatib digs a hole to plant the native prairie plant. “I felt rewarded for being a part of such an amazing project. I am optimistic about the future of the environment, due to the passion that everyone in Ecology Club has for wanting to make positive change in our school’s ecosystem,” Elkhatib said. Photo courtesy of Scott Johnson.

After receiving a $10 thousand grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Ecology Club restored the school grounds to prevent flooding, promote biodiversity, and remove invasive species from September 20th to October 8th. The organization aimed to transform the schoolyard habitat, located in front of the athletic entrance, into a functional native prairie wetland. 

Before members and students participated in the project, the school called the Oswegoland Park District to spray and remove phragmites, an invasive grass species, in order to allow native prairie plants to thrive. 

After these invasive species were removed, members cut and burned the remaining phragmite plants. The final part of the project occurred on October 7th, where students and members planted and mulched over three thousand native seeds. 

Along with this process, Ecology Club members were tasked to describe and explain the project to Honors Biology students. Senior and Ecology Club member Samay Inampudi said that he was  excited about the educational aspect of the project. 

“I’m glad that Ecology Club members have been given the opportunity to teach people about various ecological issues, especially because I can educate others on something I’m passionate about. Some people may overlook even the smallest things in this ‘campus’ but it’s so amazing since they can be so vital for the health of the system,” Inampudi said. 

The biology teachers also used the restoration project as an opportunity to teach important biological concepts related to ecosystems within the classroom. 

They developed activities in order to allow students to understand the impact that human behavior can have on the environment, which may include flooding, biodiversity loss, and more. 

After the students planted the native prairie plants, they could see these activities and lessons applied to the community around them.

Not only were these activities an informative experience, but they also promoted interest in ecology. Freshman Thomas O’Driscoll said that he hopes to make a positive impact on the environment. O’Driscoll is an Honors Biology student.

“I am excited to learn about this project and will be happy to apply it to our own community in a positive way. I think it’ll be interesting to learn about, and fun to participate in helping the ecosystem near our school,” O’Driscoll added. 

Although this restoration project spans over three weeks, it will continue to impact the school for years to come. Senior Ecology Club President Chris Cetnar said that the effects of the project will be felt both in and outside of the classroom.

“This project is one that will be taught in biology, earth and space, and environmental classes for years to come. I hope that when students and staff arrive at school in the morning, they’ll be constantly stunned by the beauty of the restoration project,” Cetnar added. 

Ecology Club Sponsor Scott Johnson said that the restored area will act as an outdoor lab setting in the future where students can conduct biological experiments and collect data. This area will act as an example of how students can utilize the ecologically functional areas in the future. 

The Ecology Club’s $10 thousand grant will allow the club to improve East’s grounds as well as provide educational opportunities for its students. “We created activities that allow students to understand how human impact has caused flooding, biodiversity loss, and the growth of invasive species,” Ecology Club Sponsor Scott Johnson said. “In one activity, students can create an accurate timeline that shows the transformation of the Oswego East schoolyard habitat over the past 40 thousand years.” Photo courtesy of Scott Johnson.

“This project is one that will be taught in Biology, Earth and Space, and Environmental classes for years to come. I hope that when students and staff arrive at school in the morning, they’ll be constantly stunned by the beauty of the restoration project.”

senior Chris Cetnar

If this area is successful, the Ecology Club hopes to spread out to other areas on school grounds. There are multiple spaces that are not used, like by the soccer fields and behind fields by the school, and it is imperative to make them ecologically functional. 

In addition to promoting native prairie plants and increasing biodiversity, transforming regions of the school to be ecologically functional has an economic benefit. The deep roots of the prairie plants mitigate floodwaters, decreasing the cost of maintenance. 

Considering the sizable impact of the project, the Ecology Club has taken major steps to solve a large global issue, the deteriorating environment, by localizing it. 

“I think that it is extremely important that we spend more time restoring our ecosystem especially because it was damaged for our benefit. As someone who is passionate about climate change and environmental issues, I have enjoyed helping the environment through this project,” Inampudi added. 

Senior Ecology Club Vice President Maddie Benzaquen said that she is also hopeful for the future of the environment, by inspiring others to help the Earth. 

“I feel that not enough emphasis is placed on the environment at Oswego East,” Benzaquen said. “This project is not only an opportunity to improve our school grounds in terms of getting rid of invasive species, but I’m also looking forward to hopefully inspiring more students to get involved in local projects helping the environment as well.”

Annika Srivastava is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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