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Learning in Action

Alum Returns Home to Give Back and Solve a Mystery

Mystery 1500-square-foot tarpMystery 1500-square-foot tarpThis day all the buzz among Blair and Michael's second and third graders was about the 1500 sq ft tarp that appeared on the south slope of the Free Union campus. Today Jack Intihar, now a high school sophomore and a 2016 fifth grade graduate of Free Union, was to return to a place he called home for nine years—not just for a visit or a chance to teach the students about practical ecology (and maybe solve the mystery of the tarp), but to give back to the school where he learned about the importance of protecting the environment. 

Students ready to unfurl the tarpStudents ready to unfurl the tarpAs a participant in the James River Leadership Academy, Jack joined his mentor Grace Carbeck to enlist the help of Free Union students with the pollinator garden he is creating on campus. Jack explained that the purpose of a pollinator garden is to attract bees and other pollinators that carry pollen from plant to plant. When pollen arrives at a new plant, it germinates, which means it now can grow its own fruit and make more seed. Pollination keeps plants in the area healthy, creates new plants, and promotes an eco-friendly environment. Without pollination, the food supply on earth would be seriously compromised.

Prepping the soilPrepping the soilPrior to Jack’s arrival, a wonderful exchange of letters ensued with the students about pollination and about the apple orchard they planted. Exuberance was in full view:

Explaining drainage and pollutionExplaining drainage and pollution“I’m so excited to know what’s under the tarp.”
“What will you plant—maybe Zinnias?”
“Can we help you?”
“I’m hoping we get to help you uncover the tarp.”
“And can we help you plant and do more?”
“You must be so excited!”
“Dear Jack, I have two questions: What’s it like in high school? Do you know what’s under the tarp?”

More readying the soilMore readying the soil—more learning by doingWhen he met the students, Jack explained that pollinator gardens promote a healthy balance between organisms and their environment; they conserve energy and prevent air, water, and noise pollution. Another specific benefit of plantings is that they filter storm water runoff that carries waste and pollutants such as oil from well-travelled roads, like Free Union Road.

While creation of a pollinator garden with native plants that support native bees and other wild pollinators is Jack’s short-term objective, the longer view is the strengthening of the local ecosystem. A stronger eco-friendly locale supplies food in the form of pollen and nectar to ensure that these important animals stay in the area to keep pollinating our crops for continued fruit and vegetable production.

But what about the tarp?

The tarp helps prepare the soil for the garden to come. Jack explains that the tarp is covering the place where the pollinator garden will go. Using a technique called solarization, the heat of the sun kills grass, unwanted plants and weed seed, and fungi and bacteria that can bring disease to plants in the uppermost layers of soil, where the pollinator garden’s plants will grow and thrive.

When the second and third grade students finally peeled back the tarp, they saw that the grass had turned brown and that plants under the tarp had died. The heat from the sun that was trapped under the tarp had cooked the plants. As the students raked and prepped the area for the return of the tarp that afternoon, they anticipated the days early in 2022 when they would gather again with Jack to remove the tarp for good, prepare the soil, and plant the pollinator garden.

Epilogue (Grace Carbeck, Naturalist, Outdoor Education Teacher, Jack's mentor): "Beyond the health of the land, this garden will also be a great education opportunity to teach our kids about native plants, plant life cycles, insects, and butterflies, as well as to contribute to the overall aesthetic of Free Union which permeates many more subjects, imaginative play, and adventuring (kids love tall grass to play in!)"

Thank you Jack, Grace, and Free Union students!

Ada's letter to JackAda's letter to Jack
Jack's letter to the studentsJack's letter to the students

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