Surrounded by 100-year-old brick academic buildings, in the most remote part of the high school, there is an environmental sanctuary. At Highland Park High School in Highland Park, IL, our Green School Initiative (GSI) has turned dried up Kentucky Bluegrass into a thriving restored prairie ecosystem. With the direction and education from Howard Hill, science teacher at my school, my fellow GSIers and I have learned how prairies work and we are striving to make the optimal restored prairie. I have always worked to help the environment and this endeavor has really sparked my interest because of the beauty of prairie. Once prairie is restored the biodiversity of plants and insects increases up to 10X compared to the bluegrass.
The first step to fixing something is to understand it, right? The prairie ecosystem consists of three major parts. The first part is the primary producer, the native prairie grasses. From the lanky Canadian Rye to the crisp, colorful purple coneflower, plants like these immediately thrived. These native plants have roots that go more that 10 ft deep. Previously the Bluegrass’s roots burrowed three to five inches in the ground. The deeper roots help with storm water management for these old buildings. Also, the prairie is now a registered stop for migrating monarchs. With monarch habitat being destroyed daily in the Chicago region, this milkweed has provided an essential resting stop for hundreds of butterflies. Also, I love watching the grasses sway with the wind between classes.
Secondly, the green environment is home to rescued amphibians; primarily they are local turtles that are recovering from a bad home or from being hit by a car. Our ecosystem can house up to 8 turtles and currently houses 4. As the turtles recover, they are reintroduced into forest preserves like Ryerson woods or Prairie Wolf Slough.
Finally, recently introduced herbivores lurk throughout the secluded courtyard. These beasts provide fertilizer for the soil, and eggs for cooking class. Yes, in the prairie live three friendly chickens that the other students and I feed and care for.
The space is education, while aesthetically gorgeous. The small prairie is also a great educational tool for all of us because we can see and understand what we are learning in our environmental classes. Anyone can restore lands to their native topography. Native ecosystems will support more native species and will definitely benefit all communities.
Zacko Brint is a Senior at Highland Park High School in Highland Park, IL. He is the VP of the Student Senate, Varsity Tennis Athlete, and a leader of the Green School Initiative. He is also president of the Engaged Democrats Club. He loves foreign languages and the environment.