Spotlight: Ecology Club
Walking across the sprawling 42-acre campus located in Somerville, TN one can expect to see school buildings, parking lots, athletic fields and, of course, children rushing to and from class. Venturing towards Day high school building, however, something unexpected, the flow of fountains and the busy morning chatter of wildlife can be heard, drawing you to a walkway just west of the building. The walkway leads to a wrought iron gate where two stone memorials stand to greet you, “Mary Margret’s Garden, Class of 2005” and “This garden is dedicated to the memory of Mary Margaret Pilcher, whose life reminds us of the beauty of butterflies, flowers and rainbows”. For everyone who knew Mary Margret, the garden is a perfect tribute to a life full of love and laughter that was tragically lost too soon but would forever leave an impact on the school.
Through the gate, one is transported to scenes of a secret garden, walkways that wind through quiet sitting areas and fountains. A fairy garden, lit by the morning sun peeking through shade trees overhead. Bullfrogs lazily jump into a small fish pond as the path leads you towards the back of the garden, filled with nine large raised beds ready to be planted and a brightly painted tool shed. Two wheelbarrows lean against the side of the shed, fresh dirt still clings to the wheels. The past Saturday was Garden Day; a group of students had packed the garden to prepare it for the new school year and the activities to come. The students are members of the Ecology Club, founded in 2005. The high school students responsible for the design and construction of the garden petitioned for a club to be created to maintain and care for the garden, ensuring sustainability of the garden for the many community contributors and students involved in the project for years to come.
Donna Burrus, Ecology Club sponsor, talks about the club as she stands next to an aquarium with two African Spurred Tortoises that will, once they are fully grown, take up residence in the Garden as part of a student-led habitat project. “Every year the Ecology Club takes two annual retreats to the Land Between the Lakes, Brandon Springs Environmental Learning Center. While we are there we participate in team building, leadership development and conduct STEM field studies in the streams and local ponds. They also participate in outdoor survival skill classes to learn about outdoor cooking and shelter building”. They work closely with The Tennessee Wildlife Federation and in 2018 won the Tennessee Wildlife Federation Statewide Top School Volunteer Award. As part of their conservation efforts, they placed eighth in the nation in 2018 PepsiCo School Recycle Rally competition; also, in 2018 they won the Presidential Youth Volunteer Service Award Gold Medal for youth volunteer service hours and in 2017 the club had four members recognized by the Ronald Reagan Leadership Awards for outstanding student leaders. As she scans the long list of awards in her hand, Ms. Burrus smiles with pride and notes one of her favorite club achievements, three presidential recognitions for the work done by the students she cares about so deeply.