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Students toss thousands of wildflower seed balls in park, launch new growth cycle

Varnett students once again demonstrated that the outdoors can serve as a laboratory for learning.

Southwest Campus 5th graders on October 25 joined others in tossing about 5,800 wildflower seed balls from the top and side of a slope at nearby Willow Waterhole Park off South Willow Drive. Then for good measure, a Houston Fire Department pumper truck created rain to start the germination process.

The event was organized by The Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy, a broad-based group of citizens dedicated to the creation of the Willow Waterhole Project. The project, according to the conservancy website, is an exciting combination of major flood control and a $70 million series of detention lakes and greenspace in a 291-acre park in Southwest Houston.

Russell Schexnayder, chairman of the conservancy’s Greenspace Committee, said Willow Waterhole is eligible to become Houston’s third signature park in 2016, joining Hermann and Memorial parks.

“The planting of the wildflowers will improve what is already the best birding site in Houston because of its wildlife habitat,” Mr. Schexnayder. “Wildflowers provide seeds for birds, and nectar for both birds and  butterflies.”

For the Varnett students, Willow Waterhole serves as an outdoor teaching venue about the process of wildflower growth from seed to bloom. “The youngsters will have an opportunity to return in the spring to see the production of the next crop of seeds in nature’s plan,” Mr. Schexnayder said.

Students mold seed balls
On Monday, October, 20th, Mr. Schexnayder and his wife, Jamie, brought on campus pre-mixed material  for each student to make seed balls, which consisted of potter’s clay, compost, wildflower seeds and water.

The couple provided each of the more than 40 students with a ball of material the size of a baseball at outdoor tables near the cafeteria. From these, the students from Ms. Williams’ and Mr. Del Pilar’s 5th grade classes each rolled 40 or more seed balls the size of a dime and placed them into containers. In all, they produced about 2,000 seed balls in a little more than an hour.  Youngsters from other areas did the same at a different location, resulting in about 5,800 seed balls in all.

On October 25th, the day of the toss, eight Varnett students and their teachers  took a 20-minute walk from the campus to the tossing site along South Willow between Ricecrest and Gasmer.  They were guided by Ralph Rieger, president of the conservancy. From there, the students tossed the seed balls from the top and side of the slope, which gradually drops about 20 feet to the surface of a lake below.

Students said later that they enjoyed the experience and learned a few things along the way.

“Helping the animals that live in our environment and grow(ing) some plants that animals can eat….are the reasons we threw some wildflower seed balls along the Willow Waterhole Park,” said student Victoria Terrazas.

Mission inspires students
Mr. Del Pilar, who teaches science, said the Varnett students who participated in the process told him they learned the effects of changes in the ecosystem caused by living organisms after making the seed balls. They also learned the significance of the carbon dioxide-oxygen cycle to the survival of plants and animals, he said.

“The 5th graders had fun making the wildflower seed balls, not knowing their tremendous effect to our city and especially to our environment,” Mr. Del Pilar said. “After Mr. Schexnayder explained the purpose and importance of what they were doing, it made them even more inspired and they finished the wildflower seed balls quickly.”

He added: “Being a part of the project made myself proud that at least in a small way I helped to maintain the balance of our ecosystem.”

Student Angel Rivas said “These rivers, lakes and ponds are also the homes of birds and butterflies and some of them can only be found in Houston. So by throwing seed balls and letting them grow will help these animals have homes here and stay in our place.”

Bottom photo: (From left), Mr. Del Pilar, teacher;  students Victoria Terrazas and Angel Rivas, and Ms. Williams, teacher.

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