Can Sidwell Friends Be a 'Homegrown National Park?' The Class of 2025 Thinks So.

“You’re going to take our jobs,” said a Perkins Eastman architect during a meeting with Sidwell Friends students.

If that’s true, her job is probably safe for the immediate future; after all, the potential job thieves were only in 7th grade.

The class of ’25 virtually gathered with four Perkins Eastman architects to lay out their ideas for embracing native species on campus, particularly with regard to the Upton Street renovation. The meeting was a continuation of the group ecology projects they completed in Middle School science teachers Badia AlBanna’s and Margaret Pennock’s classes.

“I gave students a twofold challenge: to explain to others why native species are important to an ecosystem’s health, and to encourage and inspire others to do what they can to be part of a movement to create a healthy habitat,” Pennock said. “Throughout our ecology unit, I told the students that if they did a terrific job, I would look for opportunities to share their work with decision makers.”

Their terrific jobs were clearly present during the May 29 meeting.

Students spoke about the importance of increasing the amount of native plants on campus; species native to the area attract beneficial insects and birds more than perfectly manicured, non-native lawns. Native plants provide a food source for native insects; native insects provide a food source for native birds; that system continues all the way up the food chain. A wide variety of plants also promotes biodiversity, leading to an ecosystem that’s healthier for plants, animals, and humans. Native plants can lead to the Sidwell Friends campus becoming, in the words of Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, one of the books the students read, a small-scale “homegrown national park.”

“The message is strong,” said one of the architects after the presentation. “And the message is accurate.”

The message was also taken to heart. Head of School Bryan Garman, who sat in on the meeting, informed the students that he will arrange for the students to present their findings and solutions not only to the Board of Trustees, but to the facilities and operations departments and possibly to other independent schools in the area so that native plants—and all the benefits that go with them—find a home all over DC.

Happy plants, happy insects, happy birds, and happy humans—a terrific job, indeed.

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