Reliant Invests in Prairie Education
Five live presentations were delivered to 268 4th and 5th graders at Houston’s Parker Elementary on March 9th and 11th. Joining parents Jaime Gonzalez and Chrissy Pichot, NPAT Education Director Della Barbato put on her western wear to discuss the habitat that will be returning to their campus after a 200-year interruption by development.
As part of a generous $20,000 Prairie Education Program grant received from Reliant Energy, a school pocket prairie will be constructed this spring. NPAT is partnering with Parker Elementary in Houston to build our first school pocket prairie, the Parker Pride Savanna. The prairie really is Deep in the Heart of Texas. Prairie programs were also delivered to over a dozen teachers, the school principal, and the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization).
During the Ice Age, 500-pound American Lions roamed their Westbury neighborhood, which was 25% larger than the African Lion. Appropriate since Lions are the school mascot. Prairies were essential to our local cowboys and deeply rooted in founding the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
The planning team includes fifth-grade science teacher Priscilla Quiocho; PTO members Chrissy Pichot, Tricia Kennedy, and Jaime Gonzalez; and the school counselor and NPAT volunteer Pilar Hernandez. The pocket prairie will be in a U shape so two or more classrooms can use it at one time. Rock border placement, seeding, and transplanting begin in May. During the fall semester, students will grow grasses and bluebonnets as transplants, and record on iNaturalist the pollinators and other wildlife the prairie will bring.
Ms. Quiocho said that great class discussions followed the presentations. Ms. Pichot reported, “I had several parents reach out to tell me how excited their kids were to come home and tell them about prairies and longhorn bees and the Ice Age lions”.
We have recently gotten permission from the school principal, Mr. Mitchell, to use glyphosate to kill the Bermuda grass, as long as we begin over spring break when the students are not present. I am very excited about this, as this will be a much more successful kill since the roots are up to 2 feet deep and solarization is not as thorough. AND this moves our Parker Savannah planting day up to May.
The Parker Pride Savanna Team is currently planning: prairie construction, design, plant selection, signage, irrigation, and planting day. We are also conducting programs on zoom and in-person to teachers, PTO and students.
Teaching content is being prepared to give to the teachers: prairie history of the site, Rodeo connections, coastal prairie ecology, assignments with iNaturalist, Google Maps, and the City Nature Challenge. We are also planning to have the students grow some of the transplants from seed beginning this spring.
Thanks to Reliant Energy for this marvelous opportunity to share the beauty and benefits of native prairies and to inspire future conservationists!