Students Connect with Coastal Roots

It was a sunny day as the students gathered outside Aquinas Hall. Their assignment: prepare a plant nursery for 980 Water Hickory and Bald Cypress seeds for planting in the fall. Guiding them were science teacher Mrs. Joann Haydel; Louisiana State University faculty Dr. Pam Blanchard, Associate Professor in the College of Human Science and Education; Dr. Ed Bush, Associate Professor, Ornamental Horticulture at LSU School of Plant, Environment, and Soil Sciences; and Mrs. Dani Dilullo, Director of Education and Engagement, Louisiana Sea Grant. The collaboration is with the LSU Coastal Roots Program, founded in 2000 by Dr. Blanchard who is co-director with Dr. Bush and Mrs. Dilullo. Coastal Roots began as an education outreach project for the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program. In 2006, it transitioned into the LSU School of Education in partnership with the LSU School for Plant, Environmental, and Soil Sciences and the LSU AgCenter. Since its founding 23 years ago, Coastal Roots has grown to include 25,479 students from 47 schools in 18 Louisiana parishes. More than 204,000 native plants have been planted on 537 restoration trips.

Dr. Blanchard’s responsibilities in the School of Education are focused on helping elementary and secondary science educators teach science content in creative, meaningful, and engaging ways. Her current research interests are focused on natural resource stewardship at the K-12 level. “The idea for the program came from a teacher who wanted her students to be able to gather data about water quality so that they could do simple statistical analyses. The grant that funded the data collection required a restoration component which eventually grew into the LSU Coastal Roots Program,” shared Dr. Blanchard. “For me as an educator, the most rewarding part is working with teachers who want to relate what their students are learning in their classrooms to the real world. These are the men and women who inspire students to open their eyes to what is going on right around them. Another very rewarding part is accompanying students on their restoration field trips. Most really enjoy being outside and understand that they are making a valuable contribution to the Louisiana coastal environments in which they plant.”

Mrs. Haydel, also moderator of Dominican’s Ecology & Stewardship Club, covers a unit on Louisiana Wetlands with her Earth Science class. “We do a unit on Louisiana Wetlands and the LSU Coastal Roots program is a great way to engage students to actively be stewards of their environment,” she said. “This is our first year to participate in the program. A grant from the Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation Service Learning Program funds our participation.”

Dominican’s planting site partner is the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway where in early April Mrs. Haydel’s students took a restoration planting trip and planted 300 Cypress tree seedlings.

“They learned about the role of the spillway and the importance of planting trees there to increase habitat. We had help from Science-8 and my Physical Science class, who built our campus plant nursery. Through the summer we will watch our seeds grow and hope to have plenty of seedlings for next year’s Earth Science classes to plant in the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway next December or January. Then the cycle will start over, planting new seeds in the spring.”

Dr. Blanchard said she wants the next generation of Louisiana residents “to be aware of what is going on along our coast and to make good decisions based on what they understand about the critical issues facing our coast. I hope that students understand that we need to be aware of the issues and work as a group to correct what we can… like planting forests of native trees for future Louisiana citizens to replace those damaged by storms or other disasters. I never expected this program to grow the way it has or to be sustainable over the 23 years it’s been running. I am so proud of the teachers and students who have done the hard work to make Coastal Roots what it now has become. I am also grateful for my two co-directors, Dr. Bush and Mrs. Dilullo, without whom running this program would be impossible. My immediate upper administration has also been helpful in keeping this program running, as have two very generous LSU alumni, whose donations to the LSU Foundation have kept the wheels on the program turning for many, many years.”