Mrs. Pam Beane's first-grade class at Beaver Meadow Elementary School was a beehive of activity when I arrived for a visit. The students were examining pots that contained wild blue lupine plants they had grown from seeds. Already several inches tall, the flowers are destined to be planted in the pine barren area near the Concord Airport to benefit the struggling population of Karner blue butterflies, whose caterpillars feed only on the wild blue lupines.
The pots were the bottom half of orange juice cartons filled with soil. Mrs. Beane explained that five seeds had been placed in each of the eight pots and most of the seeds had germinated, making the students very proud of their success as classroom gardeners.
This is the eighth year that Mrs. Beane has participated in this project, called "Kids for Karners," in cooperation with the National Wildlife Federation, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the Concord School District's Science and Environmental Education program. Listed as a federal endangered species, the Karner blue is the state butterfly of New Hampshire. The pine barren area of Concord is the only place in all of New England where the butterfly is found.
Controlled fires are used to burn the weeds and brush in the pine barrens where the lupines will be planted. Lindsay Webb of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is not sure when the weather will permit the fires to take place.
"The window of opportunity for the fires is slowly closing and some years we had to do our best without the advantage of the controlled fires," Webb said.
LuAnne Pigeon, SEE Director, explained to me that she and her staff give "Kids for Karners" background support by supplying the soil to be used in the classroom for growing the lupines, arranging bus transportation for the students going to the pine barrens and providing the tools needed to do the planting. Stephanie Bowser, SEE Program assistant, said, "I have been at the pine barrens at just the right time to see many of the butterflies fluttering about."
All four of the seventh grade classes at the Rundlett Middle School of Concord are taking part in "Kids for Karners" this year. One of their teachers, Mrs. Michele Bartlett, said, "The students greatly benefit from this project by helping them learn about endangered species as well as ecology and global stewardship." She added, "Students understand that they can help solve local environmental issues by volunteering to help."
Mrs. Beane mentioned to me that in her 21 years of teaching, she has seen hands-on projects like "Kids for Karners" help students learn about life cycles and the vital relationships between plants and animals. The students in her class are scheduled to plant their lupines at the pine barrens on May 23. That is when their time in an outdoor classroom will be not only a hands-on exercise, but also a hands-in-the-earth learning experience they will long remember.