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St. Laurentius second-grade students spruce up school garden to celebrate Earth Day.

Second-grade students at St. Laurentius apply STEAM skills during an Earth Day project featuring a waterwheel. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAUREN BORRASSO

The St. Laurentius School Garden got some TLC thanks to efforts by second-grade students celebrating a special occasion: Earth Day.

Lauren Borrasso, second-grade teacher at the Catholic school in Fishtown, organized the April 22 project: reassembling the space’s cedar waterwheel.

Three years ago, with help from school families and a GoFundMe fundraiser, Borasso and her class established a small herb garden.

Each year since, her class chooses a new project to add to the garden.

Last year, more garden beds, perennial bushes and trees were added.

This year, students helped add trees, a composting bin and the water wheel.

“The purpose of the waterwheel was to highlight and turn into a Stream project alternate forms of energy production,” Borrasso said. “The idea originally was birthed last spring, when I was planning a field trip out to Rittenhouse Town, the site of the first paper mill here in Philadelphia.”

But then, COVID hit and field trips were put on hold.

Rather than scrap the waterwheel lesson altogether, Borrasso saw an opportunity for a hands-on teaching moment. 

“That’s when I decided we could just build one; our garden needed its own waterwheel,” she said. “So we waited until the winter of this current academic year to start the conversation, the planning and the fundraising.” 

Borrasso’s husband initially cut and assembled the cedar wood and took it apart and helped the students safely reassemble it on school grounds on Earth Day.

Additionally, the students constructed their own models in the classroom.

“They had independently created cardboard waterwheel models, practicing their                   measuring skills, cutting skills, design skills, etc. and assembling the parts; applying what we learned about energy and motion from science,” Borrasso said. “It was an exciting day when they were able to compare their own cardboard model waterwheel with the real thing.”

Aside from the special Earth Day project, students participated in cleanups around the school, Holy Name of Jesus Church and at Shissler and Fishtown rec centers on the Saturday preceding Earth Day, according to Borrasso.

“For the neighborhood Earth Day cleanup event held on Saturday, I was able to open the school garden, meet with students and their families and community members and discuss all that our school students have done with the school garden over the past few years,” Borrasso said.  “It was a great day for students and their families.” 

Maggie O’Brien was one of those whose family participated.

Her children attended the school and now her grandchildren are also enrolled at St. Laurentius.

“I have been involved with the school for a very long time,” O’Brien said.  “We sent out the Earth Day info to our school families and Mrs Borasso, the second-grade teacher, opened up the beautiful garden so that visitors could stop in and see all of the work the children did.”

O’Brien’s granddaughter is in second grade and helped with the waterwheel project.

Her grandson helped sweep during the local cleanups throughout the neighborhood.

As the outreach chair for the FNA, O’Brien worked on trying to recruit community organizations to participate in the Earth Day activities.

In addition to the garden project and neighborhood cleanups, St. Laurentius students participated in the FNA Kindness Rocks activity.

“I think having children participate in neighborhood events like Earth Day helps build their sense of community. They live here, too,” O’Brien said. “They see that the work they did, sweeping, picking up trash, it makes a difference. It gives them a sense of pride, look how nice it looks now.”

O’Brien sees involvement at a young age as the seeds to instilling a sense of altruism in the youngest 19125 residents.

“Hopefully, it gets them thinking about how they can make a difference in other ways as well.  Maybe helping a younger child or lending a hand to a senior who lives on their street,” O’Brien said. “Events like these are stepping stones to mold future community activists.”

Borrasso couldn’t agree more

“The overall goal was to instill a sense of community within our school and our neighborhood,” she said. “To promote an understanding that it is important to take care of our Earth, to be good stewards of our neighborhood, valuing hard work and honoring and sharing in the beauty of the natural world that is all around us, even in an urban setting.” ••

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