Students spruce up West Side school grounds

July 22, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The Marilyn G. Rabb Foundation ( ) is a non-profit organization that places urban ecologists into schools across the country for three years. In Chicago, the choice is the Al Raby School for the Community and Environment. They say the partnership is helping the whole neighborhood learn "green."

You may not think about prairie restoration in a parking lot next to busy Lake Street, but that's the mindset Adam Kessel is trying to change.

"The idea is that we're utilizing small spaces. That these prairie restoration, wildlife restoration or flood gardens can happen in small spaces. You don't need acres to be able to do these things," Kessel said. He's guiding students as they study and plant native gardens around the school.

"We took out big bushes, mulberry bushes and we took out trash and also we have been planting. We planted raspberry and blackberry bushes also," said Kandence Kelly, junior, Al Raby High School. "I have learned that native plants are easier to take care of because they are native to the land."

It's the second of three years that Kessel will work with students and staff as part of the Green Community Schools Initiatives ( funded through the MGR Foundation. The goal is to help students learn about the benefits of native plants and to set the school on track toward a self-sustaining ecology program.

"Today we have 450 prairie plugs so different plants that maybe 200 years ago would've been growing all over here," Kessel said. "These are going to be our emerging class rooms. We're going to be tracking wildlife. We're going to be tracking insect biodiversity and this is the start."

Kessel hopes the lessons will spread throughout the community. Gregg Ross lives in the neighborhood and came out to volunteer. He says he can easily see the concept catching on.

"It can join people together, have people to work, set gardens in their neighborhoods on lots and stuff and basically work together to keep the community going up and building it up and that's what are goals are -- trying to get the community built back up," Ross said.

The MGR Foundation ( ) and its Green Community Schools Initiative operates in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Las Vegas.

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